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The illegal marketing practices you may be using

The illegal marketing practices you may be using Rachelle Milbank

It's no surprise that most companies are changing their marketing approaches from big and bold to short and tweet.

Today, millions of people live their lives in a digital world. Social interaction, conversation, education, and work are all experienced through one's fingertips. Companies are given the opportunity to maximize their marketing outreach, putting their products and services directly in front of their customers. As beneficial as it is for companies to have total access to their target audience, customers might feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of advertisements they see through their screens.

It's no surprise that laws are created as modern marketing trends evolve. From paper to mobile web browsers, federal and state governments have made efforts so that those who want to be marketed to have the access, while those who don't can block it.

Over 10 years ago, Florida and Hawaii passed state do-not-call laws that became federal laws, which, as we all know, allowed people to choose whether or not they wanted to be called by solicitors. Soon after the national do-not-call registry was passed, states like Utah and Michigan asked themselves what the next big advertising portal for marketers would be.

Utah and Michigan's do-not-contact programs
Both states decided there should be a way for residents to not only have the option to restrict their home phone numbers from marketers, but somehow restrict all of the other communication pathways. With this idea, both states passed laws that allowed residents to register emails, mobile phone numbers (SMS), instant messenger IDs, and fax numbers, which would then prevent them from receiving adult-oriented advertisements for products or services like alcohol, gambling, tobacco, pornography, etc.

Utah's and Michigan's do-not-contact programs, otherwise known as the Child Protection Registries, are the only programs of this type used by any states. As of today, the programs protect more than 360,000 addresses and mobile phone numbers. They have grown more than 300 percent in the past year, and as of May 2009, registration numbers have already surpassed the total number of registrations in 2008.

There are civil and criminal penalties filed against companies that market to a registered address in either Utah or Michigan, with the laws directly affecting the marketing practices of certain industries. Also, individuals may take a private right of action against companies or service providers that send out messages to registered addresses.  

There have been cases investigated and actions taken against those who have marketed to registered addresses. The Utah Department of Commerce has filed civil complaints against five companies for sending adult-oriented solicitations to registered addresses within the state. The Michigan attorney general's office has filed criminal charges against two entities.

How can a marketer find out about such laws?
Marketing laws such as those in Utah and Michigan often go unnoticed by the companies that are affected by them. So how do companies and marketers find out about such laws?

In most cases, states will release information or try to reach out to the entities that are affected by the laws. But companies and marketers should not rely solely on the outreach efforts by the states -- they need to take action and do a little research for themselves. Having a legal team or someone within the company research marketing practices is often the safest bet. Individual states may have several regulations and laws that fly under the radar, and it is not until companies violate them that they learn of their existence.

Marketers can also research consumer protection laws or marketing laws through the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, which offers resources such as the division of marketing practices and advertising practices. If companies are interested in marketing to an individual state, a great way to learn about the state's marketing and advertising laws is to reach out to the state division that handles consumer protection issues.

What's next?
More and more marketers are finding that the digital world provides the most cost-effective and easiest approach to reaching customers.

Whether it is the laws in Utah and Michigan or other state and federal marketing regulations, companies should pay serious attention to where, how, and to whom they are sending their messages.

Rachelle Milbank is the community and corporate communications leader for Unspam Technologies.

On Twitter? Follow Milbank at @rachellemilbank. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rachelle is the Community and Corporate Communications leader for Unspam Technologies, the leading company in providing governments with do-not-contact registry developments. Unspam also has the longest-running, most robust e-mail address harvester...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Rachelle Milbank

2009, June 24

If you are referring to direct mail, there are a couple of things you may be able to do that will eliminate junk mail. You can contact the Direct Marketing Association (they estimate that listing with their mail preference service will stop 75% of all national mailings). You can also request a "Please Do Not Sell My Name or Address” to companies when you are purchasing products, catalogs, credit cards, etc.

I did read about laws that require the US Postal Service to provide a simple form that you can fill out to stop any junk mailers. I am not sure of the details or how effective this is, but I would recommend going to your local post office and asking about it. Hope this helps!

Commenter: Frederic Bien

2009, June 23

Do Utah and Michigan (or any US state for that matter) have a law against junk mail? I'm tired of having to clean my mailbox everyday with promos and offers totally irrelevant to my interest. We should push to solve this pollution problem at the same time people worry about email and mobile messages.