PROSPECTING: Searching for a DMV detour

Direct marketers must now use an alternative route to obtain the information once offered by state departments of motor vehicles (DMVs). In January, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government acted within its authority in forcing states to get drivers’ permission to market their names. The ruling effectively removes the DMV lists from the marketplace.

Richard Barton, the Direct Marketing Association’s senior vice president for congressional affairs, expects that all mailers will miss the DMV information, although they may not realize it immediately. “The DMV lists are the most accurate in America. If motor vehicle data are run against a list, it raises the confidence level in that list’s accuracy. Without it, undeliverable mail will increase.”

Many mailers do not use DMV data directly, but compilers and large database firms such as Polk Co. and Experian have long relied on DMV records for names. As more states have required registrants’ permission to sell their names, these companies have worked to find suitable replacements. “We are looking at ways to adapt our products and services to serve our customers’ needs, including using aggregated statistics in place of individual records,” says Experian spokesman Don Girard. But so far, the Orange, CA-based company has no substitute.

In fact, Steven Bogner, president of Cresskill, NJ-based list firm NRL Direct, hasn’t used DMV data to find names for his clients for the past nine months because so many states have restricted access to those names. “I don’t know that there are other options,” he says.

Chicago based automotive products mailer J.C. Whitney can’t afford to wait for an alternative to present itself. “We’ll have to turn to different types of databases – using magazine lists overlaid with transactional data, for example, which makes it more expensive to identify the most likely responders,” says vice president of marketing Ed Bjorncrantz. “We have data in our own files, and now we’ll have to rely more on reactivations.”

Self-reported databases, such as Polk’s Lifestyle Selector, which is compiled from product registration cards, will also become more important to J.C. Whitney. “Finding new sources for the information is a continuing process,” Bjorncrantz says. “There are other ways to get it, but it’s no longer a fast, easy process.”

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