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Direct Marketing

What is direct marketing?

If an organisation processes your personal data to promote their products or services to you then they are targeting you with direct marketing. For the benefit of those individuals who think that direct marketing is marketing by post only, direct marketing would include marketing by post, phone, e-mail, fax, text and both targeted and generic advertising banners appearing within a customer's logged-in website account pages.

According to the definition at Section 11(3) of the Data Protection Act 1998, direct marketing is:

'the communication (by whatever means) of any advertising or marketing material which is directed to particular individuals'.

When conducting their assessments however, the ICO will consider a much broader definition of direct marketing. In the ICO's view:

'Direct marketing is the communication to a particular individual of any advertising or marketing material. It is not confined to the advertising or marketing of commercial products or services. It would include, for example, the promotion of an organisation’s aims or ideals or a charity or political party making an appeal for funds'.

But genuine market research, customer surveys and competitions are not considered to be direct marketing. In the ICO's view:

'Genuine market research and customer surveys are not captured by the provisions of PECR. Running a free prize draw for survey participants appears unlikely, in itself, to be covered by the definition of marketing. However, if the prize draw is being used as a means of promoting an organisation’s products, services, aims or ideas, the offer may fall under the legislation. We would also expect that any personal data collected in connection with a genuine market research/customer survey is used solely for the purposes of researching customer satisfaction and not further processed for marketing purposes'.

This was the ICO's response to a customer survey phone call that I received even though I am opted out with the Telephone Preference Service - hence the reference to the PECR: Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

I have argued in the past that there's a bit of a contradiction taking place with regard to customer surveys and the ICO never really qualified their answer. What is the purpose of a customer survey? It's so that companies can improve their service by listening to what their customers have to say. But isn't it the aim or ideal of all companies to offer a good service to their customers? My point is, if the purpose of a customer survey is intended to help a company to achieve its aim of providing a better service then surely it falls under the ICO's broader definition of direct marketing.

Electronic marketing

How to opt out of direct marketing by submitting a section 11(1) request