The Elephant In The Room

On Monday I moderated an e-mail panel at MediaPost's OMMA West event in San Francisco. Included on the panel were David Baker, Vice President of E-mail Marketing and Analytical Solutions at Agency.com, Alan Chapell, President of Chapell & Associates, Jeanniey Mullen, Director of Email Marketing at OgilvyOne Worldwide, New York, Michelle Eichner, COO & VP of Client Services at Pivotal Veracity, and Joshua Baer, CEO of Skylist, who was speaking as a Steering Committee Member for the Email Service Providers Coalition. Each of the panelists presented positive case studies and take aways on e-mail marketing which I'll summarize in a future column. Here is a summation of my opening remarks:

Remember the Peter Finch character in the movie "Network"? For the last year, I've felt like that guy, wanting to scream: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." That is what the e-mail industry will do to you.

The fact is that e-mail marketing has taken a tremendous PR hit in the last year or so. The media, like The New York Times, has trashed e-mail marketing. Agencies have steered their clients away from e-mail in favor of banner ads and search marketing. Vigilantes have taken over arbitrating who can send e-mail and who can't. And no one raises their voice in defense of e-mail.

And all this hysteria is wiped up without looking at the facts. Because if you look at the facts, you'd see a pattern emerge. For instance, according to the DMA, e-mail has the second-highest ROI of any direct marketing channel, even with reduced deliverability and open rates. The fact is that if you examine the clickstream data from companies such as Hitwise, you will see that the biggest traffic driver time and time again is e-mail. E-mail is not just an important interactive marketing channel, it is the most important marketing channel--but you'd never know it judging by today's trade shows and industry publications.

The Elephant in the Room that no one is willing to talk about is that Spam is not the problem. The problem is the OVERREACTION to Spam. This overreaction is not something that is hurting e-mail marketing communications--it is hurting all communications.

Over the past year, we've watched the strange case of Lycos launching a software program that in essence issues denial of service attacks. We've seen a major ISP add hundreds of thousands of IP addresses to their blacklist in order to counteract a single spammer with a Yahoo! address that prevented the legitimate e-mail communication between companies and their employees. We've seen e-mail marketing companies comply with the government's Can Spam laws only to see their e-mails blocked by vigilantes, who then blacklist the companies advertising through these e-mail service providers.

In the name of keeping us free of viagra ads in our inbox, we have crippled the most efficient communications system ever developed. We have allowed the free flow of information to be hijacked by fanatics. And because no one speaks for the e-mail industry, this is going on under our noses with no cry of protest.

It is time to recognize the Elephant. It's time for all of us to throw open our windows and shout: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any longer."

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