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Do Not Call (But Feel Free to Click)

  |  July 25, 2003   |  Comments

Behind the scenes of the most successful online launch -- ever. Media budget: Zero.

Ten million users registered in four days. A few days later, it was 20 million. This past Wednesday, less than a month after registration opened for the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) National Do Not Call Registry, Americans had volunteered 28 million phone numbers, representing over a third of all U.S. households.

What's equally stunning is 89 percent of these numbers were registered online, making the FTC's National Do Not Call initiative most probably the most successful site launch. Ever. For two weeks after it went live on June 27, the registry was the most searched-for site on the major search engines, spiking the Nielsen//NetRatings charts.

It wouldn't be realistic to anticipate numbers like that for your next campaign, but the registry's runaway success reveals important information about online media's role in American life.

"It's been an off-the-charts hit," affirms Cathy MacFarlane, the FTC's public affairs spokesperson. "We anticipated huge demand, and we got it."

What the FTC didn't expect was the overwhelming proportion of online registrations. Do Not Call is, after all, about a different channel, the telephone. Nat Wood, assistant director of the FTC's Office of Consumer and Business Education, told me he had his fingers crossed online registrations would hold steady somewhere over 50 percent. "We're thrilled to keep it at this ratio," he affirms. Online registrations are both easier for consumers (especially those registering multiple numbers) and more efficient for the FTC's database processing.

"The only spike in phone registration was the first two days the line east of the Mississippi was open," MacFarlane told me. "Otherwise, the Web-to-phone registration ratio has been about 89:11. In the planning phase, we certainly thought we'd get more phone registrations. Instead, people seem to be going to work and completing the form there. Weekday registrations are much higher than weekends. We're also noticing when people complete the form [on a Friday], they don't return to click on the confirmation email until another weekday."

In addition to underscoring the at-work audience's dedication to online, Wood believes the propensity of online registrations also proves how important people find permission and privacy, Do Not Call's core values.

"We reported on the first day [a Friday] that 735,000 people had registered," he said. "We thought that was great, a high response. All of a sudden, it shot up Monday into the millions. Most people find [the Internet] more convenient. But people's home time is also very precious -- which is why they don't want to be called by telemarketers. Even [registering for the list] is giving up time at home."

You can't achieve numbers like these without public awareness. For this initiative, the FTC gave JDG Communications "a very small budget" for design, development, and dissemination of a public awareness campaign. It was a first for the government agency's consumer education division, as well as a first foray into interactive media beyond text links and buttons.

In addition to print and broadcast, JDG developed online banner ads, some of which link to streaming video. The footage was economically cobbled together out of TV b-roll and radio-spot voiceovers, explains Georgette Smith, JDG account executive and the campaign manager.

With a media budget totaling zero dollars, the FTC formed relationships with portals and publishers for inventory. WestGlen Communications spearheaded the media end of the campaign, securing inventory from SFGate, iVillage, mail2web, AT&T.net, and MSN (30 million banners are appearing on Hotmail alone). The number of video streams delivered is 5,500 and counting, WestGlen's Chris Cavello told me.

WestGlen also placed streaming media, news coverage, and links to the FTC registration site on The FeedRoom (where you can still view the PSA); Privacynotes; MSN's WindowsMedia.com; and AOL's Government Guide. AOL reported click-throughs to the FTC registry at 400 percent over the next most popular page link.

Mark Dembo, WestGlen's COO, said some of the placements were secured through relationships his company has with the properties but agrees that, in the case of portals and ISPs, "this speaks to what these organizations stand for. They want to be viewed as protecting their subscribers' privacy."

MSN product manager Karen Redetzki calls the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry "an important and timely topic. MSN chose to support it. Similar to traditional media, Internet publishers have a powerful tool at their disposal in the form of remnant ad inventory. We believe it is our responsibility to give back to the community through these types of media support."

The FTC is delighted to have that support. "Part of our mission is getting out consumer info on a lot of issues," Wood explains. "The Internet is a much more efficient method, given our budget constraints and the amount of information we need to get out. And it's the way people want to get information."

Hear that, telemarketers?

Meet Rebecca at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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