March 1, 2004, 12:00 AM

How CAN-Spam helps marketers sharpen their e-mail skills

While merchants like multi-channel bike retailer Performance Inc. expedite e-mail marketing improvements due to CAN-Spam, some experts say the lack of an opt-in rule will lead even legitimate marketers to increase the volume of unsolicited e-mail.

Is the CAN-Spam Act an effective tool for eliminating spam? While merchants like multi-channel bike retailer Performance Inc. expedite e-mail marketing improvements due to CAN-Spam, some experts say the lack of an opt-in rule will lead even legitimate marketers to increase the volume of unsolicited e-mail.

Among CAN-Spam’s requirements are that e-mail messages clearly identify the sender, both in the “from” column and in a postal address printed prominently in the text of the message, and provide a means for recipients to opt-out of receiving more messages.

The law has pushed many marketers to pay more attention to the contents of their e-mail messages as a way to forestall customers from opting out of their lists. Andrew Ruggeri, Internet director for Performance, which sends out about 500,000 e-mail marketing messages per week, says CAN-Spam led Performance to expedite plans to improve the way it targets e-mail recipients with custom offers. “CAN-Spam pushed us to do this sooner,” he says. “We know the best way to build relationships with customers is through e-mail, but we want to get smarter and more sophisticated in analyzing our campaigns.” Performance now works with e-mail services provider EmailLabs to, among other things, design targeted e-mails based on past interest shown by customers in its different channels.

“What CAN-Spam is really doing is raising the awareness of e-mail marketers that, instead of blasting out high volumes of e-mail, it’s better to be a sophisticated marketer with respect to the rights of consumers,” says Loren McDonald, vice president of marketing for EmailLabs.

But Scott Daillard, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who specializes in marketing and advertising law and represents major retail chains, says CAN-Spam is having the opposite effect by encouraging more marketers to send unsolicited e-mail. “I think the law will be ineffectual, at least in the short run,” he says. “It’s adding to the core of illegal spam because the law created a loophole for legitimate marketers to send e-mail people don’t want. Because the law created a national opt-out standard, it’s not illegal to send e-mail unless a marketer is specifically told by recipients that they don’t want its e-mail.” He adds that the federal law has also emboldened more marketers to send unsolicited e-mail because the law lacks a provision allowing consumer-initiated class-action lawsuits.

Before the CAN-Spam Act went into effect Jan. 1, he adds, many legitimate marketers were less inclined to send bulk e-mail in nationwide campaigns, because it was too difficult to keep abreast of some 36 state anti-spam laws. CAN-Spam supercedes the state laws.

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