Be careful with those marketing messages!

marketing data protection

Recently, we saw the repercussions that marketers can face for sending marketing messages to subscribers who had previously opted out of them. This qualifies as a substantial breach with the ICO, and Virgin Media paid the price for one such breach in 2021.

Why should you take care with email marketing?

Marketing and data protection are inherently related, especially when it comes to the issue of mailing lists. So, be careful what you put in your marketing emails – even though it doesn’t qualify as a personal data breach, it’s nevertheless a breach of a ‘contract’ between two parties and, as such, violates the data protection principles

The ICO fined Virgin Media £50,000 for sending 451,217 marketing emails to people who had previously opted out of marketing communications. Virgin Media’s email started off with information about the package price — “we want to let you know that we won’t be raising your price this year. This means the price you pay for your current package right now will stay the same in 2020.”  All well and good, as this was information about the person’s contract and was, therefore, not a marketing email.

However, Virgin Media’s email came off the rails when they added — “we’d like to stay in touch about all the great Virgin Media stuff we have on offer for you. You have currently said no to receiving marketing messages from us, which means that we are not able to keep you up to date with our latest TV, broadband, phone and mobile news, competitions, product and bundle offers via online, email, post, SMS, phone. You can change your preferences by simply registering or signing in to Click ‘My Profile’, then ‘My Preferences’.”    

Tut, tut, Virgin, this is marketing and not a service message.


Make sure your email marketing is true to your intentions

Complaints to the ICO said various things like, “this email was basically a service message dressed up as an attempt to get me to opt back into marketing communications.”

The ICO found that Virgin Media’s email “sought to entice or encourage customers to update their marketing preferences. It also marketed Virgin Media’s commercial offerings, i.e. “the great Virgin Media stuff we have on offer for you…our latest TV, broadband, phone and mobile news, competitions, product and bundle offers,” and as such, the email fell within the definition of direct marketing. The ICO also found that Virgin Media did not have consent to send this marketing message out as the people had unsubscribed.


What can you do to stick to the rules when sending marketing emails?

Below are 4 key takeaways from this unfortunate case study:

  1. Know the difference between service emails and marketing emails.
  2. You can send service emails as part of a customer’s contract with you.
  3. You can’t send marketing emails to people and dress them up as service emails.
  4. Marketing is still marketing — it doesn’t matter what you call it.


Avoid marketing breaches with an Outsourced DPO

The Virgin Media marketing email fiasco could have been avoided with rigorous attention to detail – which an Outsourced Data Protection Officer can help your business achieve.

At Sapphire Consulting, we offer advice and guidance that you can trust. To ensure your business remains compliant, get in touch with us today for a free consultation.

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