Do Not Call List: What Is the Impact?

The continued increase in identity theft, information disclosure, and information service has brought extreme privacy concerns to both consumers and businesses over the past decade. Market researchers must be more cautious to avoid conflict with privacy restrictions. The recent enactment of legislation against �robocalling� had us wondering about the impact of this and other �do not call� legislations.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the �do not call� registry, or DNC, as part of a series of amendments made to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) in December of 2002. At that time, FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris stated: �These amendments protect consumers� privacy, give them a choice about whether to receive most telemarketing calls, and provide enhanced protection against fraudulent telemarketers.� Beginning in July 2003, consumers were allowed to discontinue unwanted telemarketing calls by registering their home phone number with the FTC.

The introduction of DNC was met with concern from the marketing research industry, including: reduced response rates; fewer potential survey participants; increased recruiting and survey costs; and reduced likelihood of gathering a representative sample. However, the majority of these concerns stemmed from the lack of consumer awareness that DNC only applies to telemarketers (those who offer goods and services over the phone) and not to market researchers (those who gather and evaluate data based on consumers� opinions). Telemarketers can continue to call those with whom they have an established relationship and organizations who conduct B2B calls, nonprofit charities and political organizations are also not subject to the legislation. According to a study done by Harris Interactive in 2004, over two-thirds of respondents lacked understanding of the law, and were unsure whether marketing research calls would fall under DNC�s exemption umbrella.

Brian Gudmundson, senior account manager for Western Wats, Polaris Marketing Research�s call center, stated: �[DNC] has not really affected us as it does not apply to survey research. We do not subscribe to the federal do not call database, but we do maintain our own internal DNC list as a courtesy to respondents.�

The DNC program was to be effective for five years, given that many of the numbers would be old or outdated, creating an onerous and unfair situation for outbound companies. To prevent the expiration of the DNC in 2008, Congress passed the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became a law in February 2008. The Act states: �In issuing regulations regarding the �do-not-call� registry of the Telemarketing Sales Rule � the Federal Trade Commission shall not provide for any date of expiration for telephone numbers registered on the �do-not-call� registry, nor for any predetermined time limitation for telephone numbers to remain on the registry.� Consumers welcomed the DNC with open arms. Since 2004, the number of registered consumers has nearly tripled to over 172 million numbers registered. California leads with almost 20 million registered. Florida and Texas follow with over 11 million numbers. Georgia has over 5.4 million phone numbers registered.

In September 2008, the FTC further protected consumers� privacy by targeting telemarketers with the �robocall� ban. The robocall ban was instigated by an increase in complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the FTC. This new amendment applies to all consumers, not just DNC registrants. Again, the marketing research industry is exempt from this new legislation.

In spite of fears to the contrary, there is no clear evidence that the marketing research industry has been impacted by these laws. Even so, many still argue that the DNC has weakened survey response rates. Some research experts believe that the DNC has resulted in increased aversion among those consumers already skeptical of survey participation. Researchers further believe that the DNC leads to those on the list believing themselves secluded from any type of call, thus increasing consumer tendency to refuse marketing research inquiries. Other researchers counter that research response rates have already been spiraling downward over the years, regardless of the existence of the DNC and with no evidence that the DNC has aggravated that situation. Some researchers also reason that DNC helps marketing research by eliminating telemarketing calls, thereby creating an increased toleration for other calls, such as opinion surveys. Consumers are also believed to base their participation on personal factors and time available. These researchers argue that the time made available from the absence of telemarketing calls will result in more constant, if not increased response rates. Regardless of the impact, marketing research firms have adapted and will continue to adapt.

Experts are still debating the impact of the Do Not Call list on marketing research. Many studies were conducted to address the issue by organizations such as the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, no clear conclusions were made. Most researchers agree that it may take a longer period of time to see the DNC taking effect on marketing research. According to the AAPOR, �It is important that the potential impact of the DNC Registry continue to be monitored in order to determine whether the registry is capable of slowing or reversing downward trends in response, or whether continued registration only makes a bad situation worse.�

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