Since 1971, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has offered a service called the Mail Preference Service (MPS). The alleged purpose of the MPS is to allow consumers to register which kinds of direct marketing mail they want, or to opt out completely. DMA members are then supposed to scrub their mailing lists against the MPS lists and not send mailings to people who don’t want them.
Why would an association whose members make their money from direct mailings offer a service to allow people to opt out? While they cloak their motives in all kinds of fancy language about consumer choice, protecting the environment by reducing unwanted mailings, etc., the real reason why is to offer voluntary self-regulation to dissuade the states and federal government from regulating the industry. And it works — the mail direct marketing industry is essentially unregulated.
However, as noted, the DMA’s members don’t actually want consumers to opt out of their mailings, so they’ve always made it difficult and annoying to sign up for the MPS. For example:
- Enrolment expires after three years.
- There is no notification from the DMA when your enrolment is going to expire.
- Obviously, the DMA and its members are intimately familiar with utilizing the U.S. Postal Service’s change-of-address lists to update their mailing lists when people move. They could easily use the same lists to update the MPS, thus obviating the need for entries on the list to expire at all, but they don’t do this.
- Long after everybody under the sun was doing things like this on-line, the DMA continued to require people to send in forms by U.S. Mail to enroll in the MPS.
- When they did finally start letting people enroll on-line, they charged a fee, and the enrolment Web site was awful. (I’m not certain, but I think there was a time during which they were even charging a fee for enrolments sent in via the U.S. Mail.)
- They’ve finally started letting people enroll on-line for free, but the (new) Web site is just as awful and doesn’t work, and they don’t care, which is what has prompted me to write this blog entry.