Self regulation of digital marketing



February 2009

Danny Meadows-Klue is the newly appointed Commissioner for the DMC, the self-regulatory body created by the marketing industry to oversee standards in the direct marketing industry. In this industry interview he explains why it's everyone who needs to play a part.

When you were asked to join the DMC, what was the biggest pull factor?

Digital channels fuse the power of genuinely personal dialogue, with the scalability and reach of broadcast media. Our generation of marketers are creating the framework for an entirely new way communications work and it's a privilege to play a part in this. Back in 1994 I was bitten by the digital bug and have thrown my energies into this industry ever since.

In 1995 as the manager of the UK's first online newspaper ( I was able to play a role in helping develop the models for how online content and entertainment could work: the role of hyperlinking in journalism, the power of archives in unmasking truth, and the new business models for digital media brands. From the start it was clear that the UK could only be a world leader in online content, if the investment was there; and that meant persuading the advertising industry that the web was worth it. So that's why a few of us came together to form the Internet Advertising Bureau in 1996, and then later the European parent body. I must have helped launch or accelerate over 20 digital trade associations and industry initiatives around the world since then - from New Zealand to Mexico - but the UK remains the world's undisputed leader in online marketing.

Back in the late 90s I realised the importance of self regulation, working with the CAP and the Advertising Association on early self regulatory frameworks. As the industry matures, self regulation becomes even more important. It's not simply that consumers deserve a fair deal, but with the shift to the web from the high street, the scale of trading and marketing is shifting to become the dominant sales channel. As industry, if we don't get our practices right then government will be forced to step in: trying to make up our shortfalls with legislative frameworks that are likely to be at best, restrictive and most likely inappropriate and quickly outdated. To play a part in helping develop and apply a framework that's fair to industry and consumers is a privilege.

Is digital DM still something of a Wild Wild West?

It can be. Digital marketing can be fantastically empowering for consumers and incredibly efficient for brands. But there's a big bridge to cross between the theory of what's possible and actually getting it right. Many companies under-invest in digital marketing skills or the operational resources needed to get things right, and that's where mistakes are made. As a marketing trainer, I've led team at in 25 countries, showing brands and agencies how not to make mistakes, but there's more work to do. Many firms stumble because they lack the insights of best practice, others are operationally under-resources for online marketing. And in spite of ecommerce being 15 years old, most firms have a way to go before getting it quite right. Yet for those who do (and for their customers) the rewards are great.

The results from the QCI (Quarterly Complaints Index) have indicated a high level of compliance in the industry, do you think that the recession might threaten this as companies realise consumers are more vulnerable in some ways?

It's going to be a tough 18 months for the marketing industry, and particularly challenging for client side marketers who are pressured by greater accountability and smaller budgets. Consumers have less money to spend and they're looking for wiser ways to spend it - and that means looking to the web. At we're still predicting that this year web advertising will be significantly bigger than television in the UK, and rise over 20% as the rest of the ad industry falls. Search engine marketing will continue to take half all web advertising spend and benefit even more as marketers gravitate to its accountability. As for the value of email and website building, this will continue to swell, but the lack of data means spend can't even be quantified.

What's your message to marketers?

Getting self-regulation right means all of us working together. The DMC - and the rest of the self-regulatory network - needs your active engagement, enthusiastic compliance, and explicit support. If industry doesn't get this right, it doesn't get a second chance.

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