Commentary

Spam And Scam

If there’s ever been a loaded topic, which is sure to generate violent responses, it’s the topic of SPAM. I wrote an article some time ago called I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, the crux of which was that the whole opt-in process and permission-based proposition was flawed. I proposed an alternate, which went something like this:

“I wholeheartedly believe that marketers need to earn the right or permission to continue a dialogue with their existing customers. But what about initiating the same dialogue? Who makes the first move? How will the consumer ever know what they’re missing out on?

“We’ve created a storm in a teacup surrounding the semantics of what constitutes permission or opt-in. The reality is that there’s a lot of value out there and it’s not all in the form of opt-in communications.”

Some of the responses I received made me seriously consider getting a bodyguard. My responses to some of the incensed readers, offering expanded explanation and support to my thinking didn’t help. I’m even convinced one reader sent my email address to a host of below-the-belt lists. Kinda obvious when your SPAM increases by a factor of 50 in a single day!

Even the Granddaddy of permission-based marketing, Seth Godin, had some words of wisdom to share with me, which didn’t leave me feeling too confident in his vision beyond a means of helping companies to make money through email marketing.

My Spin article about the Silent Salesforce generated healthy mixed response. What interested me was that the primary criticism centered solely on Palm’s cookie-cutter HTML email intended for referrers to send to referees. The feeling was that this would constitute SPAM (or at least would add to it) – even though it would be originating from a recognized source.

In case anyone is foaming at the mouth right now, let me take this opportunity to categorically denounce SPAM. It’s not just bad for business. It single-handedly threatens to wipe out email marketing as we currently know it.

Every day I receive upwards of 30 pieces of junk mail. I spend precious moments of time deleting the garbage, careful not to inadvertently select a piece of “real” mail in the process. I search painfully through my inbox to find those mails cleverly hidden through the use of off-date stamps. I’ve resigned myself to this daily waste of time ritual. But I shouldn’t have to.

If anyone out there is responsible for this, please hear me now: I don’t need any parts of my body enlarged, I don’t engage in underage (or overage for that matter) porn and I have no debt problems. Furthermore, I’m not aware of anyone who ever registered for any program, then promptly forgot about it, only to discover they had thousands of dollars in checks waiting for them.

The fact that these mails keep getting sent must indicate that there are people out there who do fall into some of these categories and therefore, might respond accordingly. Scary thought and ironic twist on frequency and ROI, wouldn’t you say? At least now we have the Gov for some kind of recourse.

I was intrigued with the reader who commented on Masha’s response to Tom Hespos’ recent Spin article, suggesting that we differentiate between unsolicited commercial email (UCE) and SPAM.

But at the same time, I also think we should seriously consider revisiting and redefining what is truly opt-in and what is in fact, cop-out.

“You’ve got Mail” means a lot more to a newbie than to a tenured Netizen. In the first year of a user’s online experience, the likelihood to try out something new is that much greater. This includes opting-in or giving permission to receive relevant information.

Exacerbating this is the presence of default opt-in where the onus is on the consumer to notice the inconspicuous box and uncheck it if he or she is not interested. Cheap trick if you ask me.

I also wonder if the “occasionally trusted partners of ours would like to send you materials of interest” was replaced with “as often as possible we’re going to sell your name to as many prospective buyers as we can,” whether the results would be as encouraging. I think not.

Yes it’s time for us to firmly deal with the serious threat of SPAM. However, while we’re at it, we may want to take this opportunity to clean house and sort out the flimsy guise of opt-in in the process.

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