Picture: 123RF / JORGENMAC
Picture: 123RF / JORGENMAC

The local performance (or direct) marketing industry needs to take a long, hard look at itself and face up to some unethical practices that have reared their ugly heads. The industry already needs to work hard to build consumer trust, but a number of companies are conducting themselves unscrupulously and in the process dragging ethical businesses down alongside them.

The big take-out: Unethical performance marketing companies are compromising the reputation of the entire industry. Clients need to be asking tough questions of their direct marketing companies, including whether they are gearing up to be PoPI compliant

Practices unprincipled companies are carrying out include marketing to people who have put their names on the Do Not Contact list; marketing to people that companies don’t have the legal right to market to; marketing before 8am and after 7pm, or on public holidays; marketing products that are clearly not in the consumer’s best interests and not removing a contact from a marketing list after they’ve opted out.

Responsibility on both sides

Performance marketing does hold benefits for consumers, and there are agencies that take their responsibility – to both the industry and consumer – to heart. These companies understand that while the onus is on them to act ethically, clients also play a role.

Marketing agencies need to take a firm stand about what type of products they’re willing to promote. I’m shocked to see some of the loan-finding services that are being pushed. These prey on desperate, blacklisted consumers and are getting away with murder based on a few technicalities. Though times are tough for everyone and clients are hard to come by, providing a service to unethical businesses – to my mind at least – makes you complicit. Consider the Bell Pottinger debacle to see where collaborating with the wrong company will get you.

Clients need to ask some tough questions from direct marketing companies. Among them should be whether the company is compliant with the Direct Marketing Association of Southern Africa’s Electronic Communications Act. Do they market what can be considered unethical products and services? And finally, are they gearing up for the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act?

Ready for PoPI

Though it takes significant effort to become PoPI compliant, it holds a number of key benefits for consumers and the industry at large. Take for example the recent data breach with up to 50m SA citizens’ data being exposed. It is exactly such security breaches that PoPI aims to prevent, and if PoPI had been in effect, the full might of the law, including the possibility of a R10m fine or even imprisonment, would have been in force.

In addition to securing personal information, PoPI also addresses the controversial subject of whom marketing agencies are able to market to. By requiring opt-in proof from clients for any marketing activity, the legislation could have the effect of shrinking marketing agencies’ e-mail/SMS-lists considerably. Those who are not gearing up for this change are sure to feel the pinch in their pockets soon.

The consumers’ best interest

The unethical behaviour of one bad apple reflects poorly on all of us, blackening the name of the industry and affecting the public’s trust. It’s in the performance marketing industry’s own best interest to hold unscrupulous players accountable for their actions and expect them to face the consequences. The alternative is that unethical behaviour will soon affect the bottom lines of all of us.

For the performance marketing industry to continue to flourish, not only is compliance with PoPI a priority, but so is self-regulated, moral behaviour. Both marketing companies and their clients must have consumers’ best interests at heart. Without that commitment first and foremost, the industry is fighting a losing battle.

Gareth Mountain is head of sales at Olico.

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