Spam is harassment, pure and simple
Direct marketers should get "permission" before sending junk E-mail

There are few things that cause greater annoyance to regular E-mail users than the daily chore of having to sort through a mailbox full of "spam" or unsolicited junk E-mail, in order to get to their important messages.

In spite of considerable advances made by direct marketers in targeting E-mail campaigns at those that need or are interested in their products, spammers continue to give the profession a bad name.

Unlike television, radio and newspaper ads that most consumers can avoid if they really want to, E-mail users have to glance at every one of the messages that land in their boxes. After all it could be an account statement, a reminder note from the boss or even a love letter. E-mail, like the telephone is becoming a public utility, which few can afford to ignore, once they become regular users.

The net effect is that spammers send their millions of daily junk E-mail messages to what is essentially a captive audience.

Marketers love spam because unlike printed circular or telephone solicitation campaigns, junk E-mail costs virtually nothing to produce. Any orders received are thus highly profitable.

But while it costs little or nothing for spammers to send out a junk E-mail campaign, it costs a fortune in time and money to individuals and companies whose employees must sort through all the messages that land in their E-mail boxes. This is especially true when you consider that spam arrives every day of the year.

Unlike other forms of advertisement such as circulars, where the cost is primarily born by the advertiser and which can be thrown en masse into the garbage, junk E-mail costs are primarily born by those receiving it, since it must be read and sorted.

Spammers dismiss complaints about harassment and legislation attempts by claiming freedom of speech, and given the latitude that the courts have allowed advertisers in the past, they would have a good chance of winning.

Since consumers have no choice but to at least glance at each piece of junk E-mail landing in their boxes, sending spam is the moral equivalent of jumping in front of a pedestrian, blocking his path, and shouting the advertiser's message in his face.

Although many companies offer consumers the opportunity to have their names taken off spam lists, to do so, the individual has to read detailed instructions, which are often buried at the end of an advertisement. Ironically those trying to get off a mailing list, spend more time looking at an ad, than those who just patiently sort the spam and dump it in the trash.

Many unscrupulous marketers also use a trick where the E-mail box address they mention to send "unsubscribe" requests is always full, so the ad bounces back into the sender's E-mail box.

For all intents and purposes it is impossible to get one's name off of all the mailing lists that are out there. AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail and other companies that compile these lists sell them to so many companies that it is a full time job corresponding with them all.

It is this transfer of marketing costs and burden from the marketer to the consumer that makes spam a particularly odious form of advertising, which many reputable companies shy away from.

"Our policy toward junk E-mail is the same as that regarding any direct marketing effort," said Ed Cartwright, director of communications at the Canadian Marketing Association, proceeding to read from the association's ethics guidelines.
"Marketers shall not transmit marketing E-mail without the consent of the recipient, unless the marketer has an existing relationship with the recipient."

Although CMA guidelines are voluntary, its 785 members such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Compaq Canada, and Columbia House tend to follow the rules, as do most member companies, keenly aware of the scorn E-mail users accord spam. Marketers are in fact so conscious of this scorn that many do not conduct spam E-mail campaigns under their own names. They will invent a subsidiary name, so that the parent company's identity will not be tarnished.

The increasingly accepted standard in direct marketing, at least among reputable companies, is known as "permission marketing." That is the consumer must clearly indicate a willingness to receive unsolicited communications from marketers.

The key is relevance. If a company owner running a profitable business gets an E-mail offering a program teaching him how to start his own business, it's clear that the solicitation is going to be perceived as a nuisance. On the other hand, if a subscriber to a triathlon magazine gets a message telling him that a triathlon meet will be held in his district in six weeks, the communication will likely be perceived differently.

E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at


Home | Archives

  © 2000 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.