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Guidance for marketers

Direct marketing is defined as "the communication (by whatever means) of any advertising or marketing material which is directed to particular individuals".

It is not limited to advertising goods or services for sale but includes the promotion of an organisation’s aims and ideals, including not-for-profit organisations.

Marketing campaigns have to comply with a number of requirements. The Act applies to all marketing campaigns targeted at individuals. The Unsolicited Communications Regulations apply to direct marketing marketing by email or text, telephone or fax in addition to the Act.

This page only gives a very broad overview of the marketing rules and you can consult our direct marketing checklist to see whether your marketing campaign complies with the requirements and good practice. For detailed advice, including using third party lists, viral marketing and ‘recommend a friend’, see our direct marketing guidance available below.

  Find out more about using marketing lists

In brief:

  • Electronic mail marketing

Electronic marketing can only be carried out if the person you're targeting has given you their permission.  Find out more about consent

There is one exception to this rule, the 'soft opt-in', which applies if all the following conditions are met;

  • the person's details have been obtained in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale of your product or service;
  • the messages are only marketing your similar products or services; and
  • the person was given a simple opportunity to opt out from marketing when their details are first collected, and are given a simple way to do so in all future messages.

When you send an electronic marketing message, you must tell the recipient who you are and provide a valid contact address and a simple means to unsubscribe.

If you rely on another company to do your marketing, including the use of "affiliates", for example, this is not a get-out clause when it comes to the law. If your business has instigated a campaign, you are responsible and it’s up to you to make sure it meets the requirements of the law.

The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is owned by the UK Information Commissioner, and people may register their mobile and home numbers with the TPS to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls or faxes. You must not market individuals who have registered their numbers with the TPS.

In summary, it is recommended that marketing campaigns are always permission-based and you explain clearly what a person's details will be used for when they are collected. Provide a simple way for them to opt out of marketing messages and have a system in place for dealing with complaints.

Individuals can make complaints to the Commissioner if they think that your electronic direct marketing contravenes the Unsolicited Communications Regulations.

  • Postal marketing

Postal marketing can form an important part of any organisation's overall marketing strategy and can generate important new leads and business.

The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is a service set up by the direct marketing industry to help people who don't want to receive 'junk mail'. People can register their details to prevent further mailings, and several direct marketing codes of practice specify that marketers should clean their lists against the MPS file.

Rights of Individuals

  • Stopping direct marketing

A natural person can ask to be taken off your mailing list at any time and you must comply with their request. There are no exceptions to this.

It should be as easy for people to opt out from marketing as it was to opt in.

If you fail to comply with a person’s request to stop marketing they can complain to the Information Commissioner and/or apply to the High Court for an order against you.

  • Requests for personal information

Any person, including your customers and employees, have the right to ask for their personal information and are entitled to be informed where you obtained their personal data from. Find out more information on this and what you need to do to comply with a subject access request.

Individuals can make complaints to the Commissioner if they think that you have not complied with their rights under the data protection law.

The Commissioner has investigative and corrective powers in relation to contraventions of the law, including the power to require processing to stop and to impose penalties up to £1,000,000.