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How direct is too direct: an introduction to direct marketing law

8th Apr 2024 | Commercial Law | Data Protection & Information Law | Data Protection Audit for Businesses | Data Protection Round-up | Direct Marketing Training
Graphic of a megaphone with icons representing different types of marketing

There are many common misconceptions about direct marketing and what it involves – and not knowing the facts could lead to serious consequences for your business. 

What is direct marketing?

Direct marketing is an essential part of any business’s marketing toolkit; communicating with your exact target audience is an effective way you can increase relevant leads (and, therefore, sales) for your business. Recent statistics include:

  • Direct mail marketing has a response rate of 5.3% (compared to 0.6% for email marketing) (ZipDo, 2024)
  • Over 50% of consumers make a purchase after a marketing text (Attentive Mobile Consumer Report, 2023)

Direct marketing is often associated with cold calls, irritating door drops or spam emails. In reality, direct marketing is a little more nuanced than that – most spam might be direct marketing, but most direct marketing is not spam.

Direct marketing uses personal data

Google ‘direct marketing’ and you’ll get varying results. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK data protection regulator, defines direct marketing as “the communication (by whatever means) of advertising or marketing material which is directed to particular individuals”. 

Most types of marketing involves targeting potential or existing customers to a degree, often grouping customers together via certain variables such as age, gender or hobbies, and sending marketing messages to them accordingly. For example, a paid social media campaign that advertises cookware to people who like baking.

Direct marketing takes this personalisation one step further and uses personal data such as names, email addresses, and even postal addresses to contact specific people.

This raises various issues that more “blanket” marketing doesn’t, such as whether a person has given consent. 

Direct marketing covers a range of communications

Direct marketing is commonly thought of as using a ‘traditional’ form of communication, such as email, phone calls, texts and post. However, this isn’t always the case.

With the increased use of technology, direct marketing channels extend to social media and digital advertising with different rules applying to the likes of a leaflet posted through your letterbox to an online advert based on your browsing history.

Direct marketing legislation is complicated

If you’ve made it this far through the article, you may have gathered that direct marketing legislation requires considerable thought and there is a wealth of resources that you need to consider to be fully compliant with the law.

If your target audience is based in the UK, you need to adhere to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (known as PECR), the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR.

Direct marketing law breaches have consequences

Unfortunately, the penalties for getting direct marketing wrong can be severe, even if you break the law unknowingly.

The ICO can and will issue fines for businesses that breach direct marketing law, and these fines can be steep. In the last year, we have seen fines ranging from £55,000 to £170,000.

There’s also the reputational risk that comes with improper direct marketing; by annoying and even distressing your customers, you will turn them away from your business entirely.

Direct marketing legal training can help you

Fortunately, there is a way you can cut through the noise. We are shortly launching an online training course on direct marketing law based on the latest ICO guidance (which was updated in December 2022). This will give you all the tools and techniques you need to master your direct marketing legally.

Find out more about the course here.

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