Washington, DC - The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state Attorneys General (AG) today announced the hopeful end of a telemarketing campaign conducted under the guise of political polling, with nearly $1 million in penalties agreed to in the settlement.

According to the FTC, although the national Do Not Call Registry and telemarketing robocall rules don’t prohibit automated political research calls, “the defendants’ robocalls violated federal law because they incorporated a sales pitch for a cruise to the Bahamas. The robocalls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line.” Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. and a number of companies who aided and abetted the illegal robocall campaign agreed to settle charges of illegal telemarketing, robocalls, and caller ID falsification. Litigation continues against several other parties.

The Marketing Research Association (MRA) applauded the settlement. MRA had called for legal action after at least one of the association’s members was falsely identified by the defendants as the company behind the so-called telephone surveys.

 “The survey, opinion and marketing research profession supports this penalty,” said Howard Fienberg, MRA’s director of government affairs. “Robust legal enforcement by the FTC helps deter and punish consumer fraud and abuse. We’re particularly pleased to see the FTC and state AGs targeting this kind of fraud -- sales under the guise of research (known as sugging) -- which discredits the entire research profession.”

Researchers go to great lengths to reassure the public and policymakers that research is an activity distinct from sales and marketing.

“Every time a respondent encounters unethical mixing or masquerading,” Fienberg continued, “it threatens the ability of bona fide researchers to reach respondents and to prevent excessive government regulation.”

The MRA Code of Marketing Research Standards prohibits sugging:

#7: “Commingling research with sales or advocacy undermines the integrity of the research process and deters respondent cooperation. … Respondents should be assured that information shared in a study will only be used for research.”

#10: “Members will ensure that information collected during any bona fide research study will not be used for any sales, solicitations or push polling after the fact.”

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Founded in 1957 and based in Washington, DC, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) is the leading and largest association of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession, which delivers insights and intelligence to guide the decisions of companies providing products and services to consumers and businesses.