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.
Last year, I enrolled everyone in my family in the MPS using the previous version of their Web site. Yesterday, I tried to use the Web site (http://dmachoice.org/) to confirm the status of our enrolment, and I discovered that they’ve redesigned the site, and my old login credentials no longer work. Clever!
I therefore set out to register with the new site and enroll us in the MPS again, just to make certain we were enrolled. They only allow up to five names to be associated with a single account on the Web site, so to register all seven members of our family, I have to create two accounts on the Web site. Unfortunately, the Web site uses your email address as your username, so if you only have one email address, you can’t register twice on the Web site and therefore you can’t register your entire family if it has more than five people in it. Brilliant!
Fortunately, my mail server supports extended addresses, i.e., messages sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc., will all be delivered into my “jik” mailbox. Note that “+” is a perfectly legitimate character to include in an email address. Unfortunately, the DMA Web site does not accept email addresses with “+” in them. Amazing!
Fortunately, I administer my own mail server, so I was able to create a new address for myself “jik-dma@…” (note “-” instead of “+”), register on the site using that email address, and use the newly created account to register five of the seven members of my family.
I then attempted to repeat the process, this time with another newly created email address, “jik-dma2@…”. Alas, it didn’t work. I filled out the registration screen completely and clicked the “Submit” button, but instead of being shown a confirmation screen and receiving an account activation email message, I was shown a blank screen (except for the menu bar) and no activation email was sent. Excellent!
I tried clearing my cache and cookies and registering again; that didn’t work. I tried with two other computers, two other browser versions and two other Internet connections; none of them worked. Wonderful!
I sent a request for help through their Web site. A day later, they responded with, basically, “Yeah, sometimes the Web site doesn’t work. Too bad! You’ll just have to print out the form and register via U.S. Mail.”
Isn’t that just so precious?