Anti-Spam Law Creates Confusion

More than eight months after the start date of CAN-SPAM legislation designed to tackle the proliferation of junk e-mail, confusion about the law reigns among both advertisers and consumers and prevents marketers from fully utilizing e-mail, said experts in the direct e-mail industry.

"There are very gray areas in CAN-SPAM," said David Mettee, director of list and e-mail services at OMD Director, at the panel discussion titled "The Effect That Legislation Has Had on Online Direct Marketing," during the Interactive Advertising World conference Monday. Even some basic questions, such as whether certain types of e-mail--newsletters, for example--are considered ads, are subject to debate.

The ambiguities deter marketers from using fully utilizing e-mail, said Mettee and other panelists, because companies don't want to risk violating the law. Similarly, while marketers must provide a way for consumers to choose not to receive e-mail promotions, the exact form the opt-out provision must take is unclear. For example, if a marketer offers more than one type of product, such as a computer company that sells printers and MP3 players, does that company need to give a consumer the opportunity to opt-out of mail relating to each of its product lines? Or must it give one all-encompassing opt-out? The answers appear to be unclear at this time, said the panelists.

In addition, some consumers are confused by the opt-out procedures--which fosters customer resentment, said the speakers. "You can buy things with one click, but it takes four clicks to opt-out? That's crazy," said Jere Doyle, president and CEO of Prospectiv Direct.

Panelist Alan Chapell, president of Chapell Associates, said that marketers who collect information should clearly state how they're going to use the information.

But Doyle warned that consumers are so weary of spam that disclosures from companies might backfire. "We've kind of blown it," he said. "A lot of consumers have been burned. There's not a lot of trust out there." And he added: "The more you say to them, 'You should trust us,' the more it backfires."

Also speaking at the panel on the effects of the CAN-SPAM law were Alan Chapell, president of Chapell Associates; Eric Obeck, president of SendTec; Bill Wise, COO of MaxOnline, a division of Ask Jeeves; and panel moderator, Craig Swerdloff, vice president of Direct Marketing Solutions.