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10 November 2023

When communicating with your customers, there’s a thin line between what’s considered a marketing message as opposed to a service message. Knowing the difference between the two is vital for ensuring that your business doesn’t fall foul of the GDPR or the ePrivacy Regulations. Our data protection team provide an overview on this key difference, and how to ensure your business stays compliant.

Marketing messages vs service messages

In a recent update, we discussed how to ensure that direct marketing communications are compliant with the data protection rules. Now, we look at the difference between marketing messages and services messages and why the distinction is important for your business.

What exactly is a service message?

It’s a communication sent to individuals solely for administrative or customer service purposes. They usually contain information such as acknowledgements or confirmations of appointments and purchases, or information related to changes to an existing service or contract. Services messages must not contain any advertising or promotional material.

A marketing messaging in contrast is any message that contains advertising or promotional material and is directed to an individual. Significantly, Supervisory Authorities across the EU have taken a broad approach to what constitutes a marketing message.

Walking the tightrope

Sometimes the difference between a marketing message and a service message is obvious:

Sometimes, however, it’s not so clear cut. For example, a message informing customers of a change to an existing contract may fall foul of the data protection rules if it includes a link to a company website, or has any mention of a company’s aims or ideals.

Further, even where a communication to an individual has multiple purposes, and only one of those purposes is the promotion of a product or service, the message is still deemed to be a marketing message and, as such must be compliant with the data protection rules.

We’re here to help

Because of the exposure to potential monetary and reputational consequences that can result from a miscategorisation of a marketing message as a service message, we recommend a careful review or a conversation with your legal team is undertaken in relation to mass communications prior to pressing the send button.

For more information on how to ensure compliance with the data protection rules in respect of service messages, including how to differentiate between a service message and a marketing message, ensuring your business has the correct legal basis for communicating with individuals or putting in place internal marketing guidelines in this regard for your sales force, contact a member of our data protection team.

Contact the team

emma ritchie

Emma Ritchie

Head of Data Protection & Privacy