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Many associations create ethics codes or industry standards of behavior only to leave them on a shelf, not to be dusted off until it's time to update them. That can't be said of Direct Marketing Association, New York. DMA was at the forefront in the past decade of creating do-not-contact guidelines when prolific calling and later e-mailing by companies and nonprofits had become a national concern. DMA ensured there were guidelines in place, as well as a mechanism to enforce industry self-policing, to keep federal involvement at bay.
DMA has again taken up the mantle by announcing the enforcement phase of a program aimed at online advertising behavior - when advertisers send online ads to Internet users based on their online activity.
The association has developed a program in which an advertiser voluntarily displays an icon that allows consumers to know that the company uses behavior-based advertising. Also, DMA has created www.aboutads.info, a website where consumers can find more information on online behavior advertising, and can also opt out of any behavior-based ads, akin to the do-not-contact lists.
Companies can find at the website the principles determined by DMA and other industry groups on behavior-based advertising as well as to register for the opt-out page.
"It is a nifty little tool that allows consumers to opt out of behavioral ads," government affairs EVP Linda Woolley said.
Woolley said noncompliance by members could ultimately lead to expulsion from DMA and "there would be some publicity around that." For nonmembers that don't comply, DMA will refer the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission "and not quietly," Woolley said.
But it need not get to that point. Woolley said members and nonmembers, once informed that there had been a complaint lodged against them, usually do what is needed to become compliant. Also, the process that follows a complaint is protracted, designed to get the company to respond before reaching the point of informing the public.
"The goal is to not out companies and make them look bad. Our goal is to get them into compliance," Woolley said.
But the underlying goal for DMA is to self-regulate the industry. There is no way to tell how DMA's effort will affect the real threat of federal legislation addressing online behavior-based advertising, which remains a possibility. "This is a great tool. It's consumer-friendly and [it] does what certain consumer groups said they wanted," Woolley said.
The DMA effort is supported by AAAA, American Advertising Federation, Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Better Business Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative. Other areas that DMA will look to create guidelines for include mobile marketing, apps and sensitive information. Details: www.the-DMA.org.