April 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

The Pressure Is On Emailers: Do It Right or Don’t Do It

(Page 3 of 4)

One way that some marketers address both system-controlled and consumer-controlled spam blocking is to have their own address appear in the “from” box, so consumers know the exact source. “That allows them to get into more domains, such as dot-edu, because they have an address name relevant to their business,” says Lewis of Digital Impact, which uses its clients’ IP addresses when sending out their e-mail.

Retailers and other legitimate marketers may be trying to hone their messages to make them more appealing and not subject to spam filters, but the spam damage has been done and a backlash against e-mail marketing is developing. Nowhere is that more apparent than in statehouses. Already, 27 states have anti-spam legislation. Almost the entire balance of states is considering some form of spam regulation and some of those with laws already are looking at toughening them.

$11,000 fine

The chorus from the states is getting shrill enough that the DMA is actively promoting federal legislation. States’ legislative efforts are too inconsistent in their rules and their required labels, making nationwide enforcement difficult to accomplish, the DMA says. For example, one state may require commercial e-mail messages to be labeled “ADVT,” while another requires “ADVST.” That makes it more difficult for marketers to conform to all states’ rules for nationwide marketing campaigns, but it can also be counterproductive, the DMA contends, because anyone could block all marketing messages by customizing an inbox filter to block the required advertising labels while letting in spammers who don’t use the labels. “That would only stop the legitimate marketers from getting through,” a DMA spokesman says.

That’s why the DMA is pushing for tougher federal legislation that would require consistent labeling, such as providing an opt-out button or a physical mail address that recipients can use to file a complaint with an e-mail sender, as well as a fine of $11,000 per violation.

Although federal anti-spam bills have been submitted in recent years, none has reached a vote in either house of Congress. But at least one piece of anti-spam legislation is expected to be introduced this year, by Oregon senators Ron Wyden, a Republican, and Gordon Smith, a Democratic. A spokeswoman for Wyden says the senators plan to submit their legislation early enough to have time for full consideration in this year’s Congressional session.

But even if federal anti-spam law is enacted, no one expects it to completely solve the spam problem or even attempt to rectify all the issues retailers face in effectively using e-mail as a marketing tool. “I don’t think anyone should view federal or state legislation as a silver bullet against spam,” says a DMA spokesman. “We’re finding, more and more, that we have to take a multi-prong approach to deal with this. Legislation is one piece, another is self-regulation and another is technology.”

JamSpam

Among the self-regulatory efforts, the DMA and its interactive division, the Association for Interactive Marketing, are circulating a list of best practices. The list covers practices such as never falsifying a sender’s domain name and never falsifying a subject line, always offering an opt-out button and sending e-mail only to recipients who have granted permission (see page 20).

Further, the DMA’s E-Mail Preference Service, which is mandatory and free for DMA members and available for an annual fee of $465 to non-members, assists marketers in removing from their e-mail lists addresses of consumers who have said they do not want to receive e-mail advertising messages. Consumers file such requests with the DMA, which elicits the help of government consumer agencies to publicize the service.

On the tech front, the DMA and several retail- and Internet-related organizations, including the Association for Interactive Marketing and the Internet Engineering Task Force, are participating in the so-called JamSpam effort to come up with new ways of thwarting spam. One effort may be a new e-mail transport protocol that would enable users to opt-out of e-mail simply by clicking a menu item in their computer’s e-mail management system, such as Microsoft Outlook, instead of having to open up the spam message to find the opt-out link.

Another effort is to develop more sophisticated spam filters that could better tell the difference between spam and permission-based e-mail. A third is to find more effective methods of establishing and distributing “white lists” of authorized e-mailings that retailers send to Internet service providers, so that the ISPs won’t unnecessarily filter out those messages.

Despite the many challenges facing e-mail marketing, it’s not going away. It’s as much a part of the marketing and promotional landscape now as direct mail, TV and radio commercials and print ads. But, like those media, e-mail marketing is growing up and retailers need to evolve as the medium evolves. “We continue to develop and expand our e-mail program,” says Weil of Victoria’s Secret. “If you create highly effective e-mails that people want, it will be productive.”

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

Six ways to avoid being a spamster

The Council for Responsible Email of the Association for Interactive Media, a unit of the Direct Marketing Association, offers the following guidelines as a way to ensure that a marketer doesn’t inadvertently end up accused of sending spam:

  1. Don’t falsify the sender’s domain name or use a non-responsive IP address without implied permission from the recipient or transferred permission from the marketer.
  2. Don’t falsify the subject line to mislead readers about the content of the e-mail message.
  3. Include an option for the recipient to unsubscribe from future messages from that sender, list owner or list manager, and include valid and responsive contact information of the sender, list manager, or list owner.
  4. Tell respondents who provide an e-mail address how the address will be used for marketing purposes.
  5. Don’t harvest e-mail addresses from chat rooms or other such venues with the intent to send bulk unsolicited commercial e-mail without consumers’ knowledge or consent.
  6. Don’t send bulk unsolicited commercial e-mail to an e-mail address without a prior business or personal relationship. Business or personal relationship is defined as any previous correspondence, transaction activity, customer service activity, personalized marketing message, third-party permission use, or proven offline contact.
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