'Dad death' shock flyer addressed to children

Last updated 08:55 03/04/2011

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A hard-hitting campaign from the Heart Foundation has backfired badly, leaving a young girl distraught after she got a letter telling her that her father was at risk of dying.

A pamphlet warning about heart disease shows on its cover a young girl sitting on some steps. Next to her is a ghostly image of her father.

"New Zealand families are being torn apart" reads the caption. Inside, the brochure says "heart disease is the single biggest killer of Dads in their 40s".

The message went to the wrong people last month when the brochure was addressed to two Auckland sisters, aged six and two.

Excited about receiving mail sent specifically to them, they opened the brochure, only to find a message suggesting their father's life might be at risk.

Their father, who does not want to be named, said it took some time to calm down the six-year-old and explain the situation. He is calling for organisations like the Heart Foundation to think more carefully about who is on their database before sending out material designed to shock.

Heart Foundation marketing communications manager Bruce Waldin said the brochure was a "remail" - a pamphlet to people who have donated in the past, sent as a follow-up to a national appeal.

Children who received the brochure had probably donated to the Heart Foundation in their own names in the past.

"I can understand why they would be a little upset, for sure," he said. "I do encourage any parents who don't want their children to receive mailers, to please let us, or any charity they're involved with, know.

"Mailers like this often do have some urgency about them. I would encourage families to consider whether they want to be on member lists for charities and what name they want on that list."

Waldin said it was easy for those receiving unwanted mail from the Heart Foundation to unsubscribe - if someone got in touch via the website or called, they would immediately remove them.

The father, however, said: "Obviously we don't want to knock the Heart Foundation - we support it - but if an organisation is going to switch from its normal approach to a more aggressive style of marketing, it needs to think about who is on its database.

"How are we, as people who have previously donated, meant to know the next mailer is going to be edgy? By the time we get it, it's too late."

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said charities must be up- front with the public when they donate that they may use their details to send marketing material.

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"When someone makes a donation, it should be very clear if you are signing up to receive material in the future. You also need to know what you are signing up for. Best practice is to allow people to opt in if they want to - rather than expecting them to opt out when they find they have been signed up for something they don't want to receive."

If anyone has concerns about information they have received from a charity, they should contact the charity, or the privacy commissioner's inquiry line, which is 0800 803-909.

- Sunday Star Times

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