New law may stop unwanted marketing calls in South Africa – but many are set to lose their jobs

The current draft regulations relating to the Protection of Personal information Act (PoPI) could significantly harm a key driver of inclusive economic growth – direct marketing.

This is according to David Dickens, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA), who said that it is important to highlight the important role that direct marketing plays in the economy.

“It is the vehicle through which businesses and other entities, such as charities and non-profits, can expand their customer or membership bases, or alert existing customers or members to new opportunities,” he said.

“Less obviously, direct marketing also acts as a driver of economic inclusivity.

“It is a way for economically disadvantaged individuals to receive information about products or services targeted directly to their needs. In addition, direct marketing using relatively inexpensive digital channels can enable micro enterprises to access new markets and customers, thus promoting their growth.”

According to Dickens, recent research conducted across the DMASA membership shows that it contributes substantially to both the economy and fiscus, providing numerous jobs.

“Members of DMASA – and there are many, many non-members – employ between 45,000 and 92,000 people, of whom 26% are under 25 years old. Moreover, 50% of their employees are employed in call centres,” he said.

The majority of these young people and/or call centre staff are likely to hold only a matric, and so are most economically vulnerable, he added.

“The research also shows that our member companies have a turnover of between R12 billion and R30 billion per annum, and thus contribute anything between R500 million and R1.3 billion in tax. They also spend in the range of R84 to 177 million on marketing themselves, another contribution to the economy, aside from the economic activity their work on behalf of clients supports,” he said.

Unintended consequences 

Dickens pointed to two specific regulations which would likely cause the most damage.

“One of the regulations that will negatively impact the direct marketing industry relates to Section 69 of PoPI, which only permits companies to communicate with individuals who have previously opted into receiving such communications,” he said.

“This provision is based on similar legislation in developed markets such as the United Kingdom, but it is not suitable for a developing economy such as South Africa.

“Many South Africans do not properly understand the role that direct marketing plays, and do not know how to protect their privacy without depriving them of information they would wish to receive.”

The second flawed regulation concerns the mechanism by which individuals can opt to receive direct marketing, he said.

“The draft regulation proposes the use of a form, Form 4. However, Form 4 is extremely detailed, which will have the effect of greatly reducing the chances that it will be filled out at all.

“Furthermore, it is not clear whether it would need to be completed on paper or whether it could be done online.

“We have conducted exercises to ascertain the effect of applying these two regulations on certain of our members, and the conclusion is clear: the effect would be crippling, and the majority of jobs would be at risk.”


Read: South Africa has experienced a disturbingly high number of data breaches in the past few months

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New law may stop unwanted marketing calls in South Africa – but many are set to lose their jobs