Understanding e-Mail Marketing

The Business of E-Mail Marketing: Spam

The above is a fairly comprehensive introduction to the topic of e-mail marketing, but no such introduction would be complete without addressing the tortuous front line in the battle of deciding whether or not your campaign is spam.

According to Wikipedia,

Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.

For purposes of your e-mail marketing campaign, the most critical word in that sentence is the last one. You are not intending to spam your audience, because your messages are not indiscriminate; quite the contrary, they are very targeted. However, your desires and the way the Internet works may not coincide. The reality of the situation is this: if you are sufficiently technical and determined, and have a sufficiently permissive ISP, then sending spam is very close to free. Given that scenario, it becomes financially profitable for any number of unsavory businesses to engage in spam. Worse, it becomes financially profitable for any number of illegal businesses to engage in spam. Because of this, various countries have written laws around spam, and the Internet as a whole has attempted to implement certain technical solutions to spam. Your job, as a legitimate business and marketer, is to avoid running afoul of either legal or technical issues.

Clearly, the legal issues are the ones to be most assiduously avoided. Laws vary from region to region, but here’s a summary of the current state of affairs:

E-Mail Marketing in The EU

Article 13 of the 2002 Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications prohibits the use of e-mail addresses for marketing purposes, unless the recipient has opted-in. There is an exception for existing customer relationships, but, effectively, this means the use of purchased lists in the EU is prohibited.

E-Mail Marketing in Australia

The rules in Australia are similar to those in the EU: the Spam Act 2003 effectively prohibits the use of e-mail addresses for marketing purposes, unless the user has opted in. To my knowledge, there isn’t the EU equivalent of the “existing customer relationships” clause, but there are some exceptions. For details, it’s probably best to read the act or contact a local legal expert.

E-Mail Marketing in Canada

Legislation to limit spam in Canada was introduced to the House of Commons in 2009 as the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. We’ll have to wait and see what passes before a final determination can be made on sending e-mail marketing messages to purchased lists with recipients in Canada.

E-Mail Marketing in the United States

Unlike the other major markets which have introduced legislation requiring a user to opt-in in order to receive commercial e-mail, the US legislation requires opt-out, which means that you can use purchased e-mail lists, provided you include an “unsubscribe” link in your message. Additionally, the following requirements apply:

  • A visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism is present
  • Consumer opt-out requests are honored within 10 days
  • Opt-out lists are only used for compliance purposes
  • The “From” line is accurate
  • The “Subject” line is not deceptive and is relevant to the content of the message
  • A legitimate physical address of the publisher or advertiser is present
  • The messages can not be sent through an open relay
  • The e-mail addresses can not be “harvested”
  • The e-mail header can not be falsified

Now, any legitimate business attempting an e-mail marketing campaign is unlikely to intentionally run afoul of those US rules. However, they do present some challenges. Because of those challenges, most US based on-line e-mail companies are stricter than the law, and actively require that your lists be opt-in (i.e., that you not use purchased lists). So, if you are going to market to a purchased list, make sure the agency you’re planning to use will allow that, or you may run afoul of their terms-of-use (i.e., they will likely fire you as a client). Second, in order to avoid legal issues, you have to be careful with the actual purchasing of the list. You should only purchase from reputable list companies who guarantee that their lists are not harvested.

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