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Catalogers on Catalog Choice: Love It? Hate It? Leave It? or Embrace It?

The following is a perspective by ACMA president & executive director Hamilton Davison. The views expressed are solely the author's and may or may not completely reflect ACMA’s policies.

Catalog Choice: Why do you exist and complicate my life? Why can’t you just go away so I don’t have to be spending so much time on these issues?

I must admit, I do feel this way…regularly. I want to spend my time on something that is making money for our members; not adding complexity and administrative burden.

But spend time I do. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. It is also good business.

Let me explain.

First, ignoring Catalog Choice  is not a sustainable business strategy. There are a small number of very vocal consumers who think it is their God-given right to control what comes in their mailbox. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Importantly, they don’t have to pay for it. Until it is a recipient-paid system, do they actually get a vote? This is ultimately for politicians to figure out.  (Ask me to tell you about the hate emails I receive from this vocal minority periodically.)

The most efficient path of least resistance is to address those who feel passionately about not receiving particular catalogs. Few, if any, of our members want to send them something that costs you money that consumers  will throw out anyway. And you certainly do not want to build ill will.

It amazes me that this issue generates such strong feelings both outside the industry and within it. How about a 22% postal cost increase? Now THAT gets my blood roiling. Canceling a few unwanted catalogs? Hardly a point on my blood pressure. Am I missing something?

For the record: ACMA’s board voted to endorse Catalog Choice as one of only two “approved” mass opt-out vehicles after an exhaustive diligence of all the opt out services available. The principles used in this investigation (that incidentally included executives from both ACMA member and non-ACMA member catalog companies) were as follows:
•    That the service be directed at customer choice, not some trumped up and wholly unsubstantiated message that catalogs are bad for the environment. (I would passionately argue that catalogs are good  for the environment and provide a host of important social and cultural benefits as well.)

  • That the service is free to the consumer.
  • That the vendor does not harvest names for some ancillary marketing purpose.
  • That the vendor is legitimately organized and sincere in its business goals.
  • That the vendor is not “anti-catalog” and agrees to promulgate neutral, if not positive, messaging about cataloging.

This was the price of admission. It then morphed to include agreeing to provide a variety of opt-out alternatives that would allow us to make sure the consumer really wanted to not receive any catalogs, ways to validate the consumer requesting the opt out (there are still some significant limitations here), and other things important to us as marketers.

Why not just ignore Catalog Choice?  Why would ACMA “endorse” it?

Consider this: So a potential customer receives your book and it is of no interest. S/he does not want to receive anything further and for this person, the “cost” of going online to establish a Catalog Choice “member” account is less than simply walking the offending book over to the recycle bin. You elect not to draw down the Catalog Choice suppression file and so the potential customer continues to receive your mailings. They’re pissed. Unbelievably, irrationally mad…but at who? Catalog Choice? ACMA? DMA? No. They are mad at you. Further, they tell their best friend about it.

You have lost two sales. And you have mailed a series of books to people who are  pretty clear they are not planning on buying your stuff even though they are active direct customers elsewhere. Actually now, they are sure they are not buying from you. Their best friend probably isn’t either.

When a group comes out of nowhere with the ability to attract nearly a million people in less than a year, and has a proven ability to grab “ink” (and network TV space), what should we in the catalog community do about it? Ignore them? That was the suggestion of a now discredited association executive who threatened this writer with “I will make certain you do not survive” type threats if ACMA were to even talk to Catalog Choice. 

Engage with them? Possibly shape their policy and/or approach to make it more palatable to the industry? At least, be able to blow the whistle on malfeasance?

Buy them? That may be the best idea yet and it becomes true “self-regulation” that we all want. Who’s got the money? I would love to do a deal on your behalf.

(Oh, did I forget to mention increased FTC, DOC and other governmental scrutiny around privacy, information collection, safeguarding public trust and who knows what else? Is this really a time catalogs want to be cast in any negative light with the Feds?)

Can we get on to some other pressing business now?

Click here to post a response to this article.



Reader Response...

Dear Catalogue people,
I read your on-line editorial.
We do pay for the catlogues sent.  We pay through the cost of the goods.
And we pay to dispose of them.  Not everyone has "free pick-up" of trash or recylcling --
and those who do, pay for it in their taxes
And some people, like my parents in their mid-80s, can barely
carry to the curb the 20 catalogues that arrive daily  -- many of which
they never heard of until they arrived, they never ordered from,
and they don't read or want.

Thank you for respecting the CatalogChoice options.




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