Direct marketing: The devil is in the detail

The devil is in the detail
Written by: Johann Barnard

Special holidays and celebrations throughout the year offer small businesses the opportunity to boost revenue and win new customers with discounts and special deals. Just think of the amount of business that florists and restaurants gain on Valentine’s Day.

In order to attract this business, however, often requires the marketing of those specials. And as much as this presents an opportunity, there is also a distinct danger if not done correctly.

Gugulethu Majija, a candidate attorney at Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys, warns that marketing is no longer simply a case of sending out emails or SMS messages to prospective customers.

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) both present challenges when doing digital or database marketing.

The Consumer Protection Act

The most important aspect of the CPA in relation to direct marketing is that you have to offer consumers the ability to ‘opt out’ of any communication you send them. This can be done by simply offering an email option or address to which such requests are sent, or by replying to an SMS with the message ‘STOP’.

Secondly, you have to be wary of what is termed ‘false advertising’. This means that the nature, price or any other material information should be clear and not mislead a consumer. This could be something as simple as forgetting to limit the number of items a consumer may buy. Unless you do so, one customer may walk off – legally at that – with your entire stock of special deals.

The CPA also allows a customer to return goods or cancel an agreement in the so-called ‘cooling off period’ of at least five days when bought as a result of direct marketing. The seller then has to refund the customer within 15 days of the goods being returned or the agreement being cancelled.

So, if you’re hoping to clear stock of a below-par quality product, you could well end up having to refund unhappy customers.

The Protection of Personal Information

This law is a little more strict in terms of how you handle direct marketing activities. To understand the full extent it is best to consult a legal expert or attend a workshop that explains the details.

The biggest impact is that you need the express permission of the consumer to send him or her your direct marketing messages. This ties in with the CPA provision that you have to offer the ability to opt out from such communication.

The Act also has strict requirements on protecting the information on your database, exactly what information you hold of the people on your database and how you may use that. You may not, for example, sell your database to another business without the consent of the people in your contact list.

POPI may not yet be in force yet, although it is become so this year. Rather than taking a chance it’s best to start complying already.