How Much SPAM Can CAN-SPAM Can?

by Jul 16, 2007, 2:00 AM
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We often get so entrenched in our worlds of digital marketing we forget to be a consumer. But are we far too biased and savvy as consumers to be a true reflection of the attitudes and opinions of our customers? Remember, you are a power user of email and the Web. I thought this piece about email from a writer who I know well would lend a refreshing perspective.

A Consumer Viewpoint by Cynthia Edwards

Consumers applaud any and all legislation that is effective in protecting us from unwanted onslaughts of email, sales calls, junk mail, and junk faxes. I am particularly pleased at the total cessation of faxes from strangers encouraging me to invest in wildcat stocks, and the lessening of unwanted phone pitches, although Chase Bank is getting on my nerves at the moment with some persistent calling.

Now if only someone could get a handle on junk email. This is politely known by euphemisms such as "unsolicited commercial email" and "bulk mail" -- the reality is that all the legislation to date has only managed to clamp down on legitimate marketers, who have better sense than to deluge their customers with weird and inappropriate electronic messages anyway. What's left in my inbox is from the dregs of the email world.

A friend sent me a cartoon that shows a castaway on a desert island who is surrounded by bottles floating in the water. He is writing in his diary: "Day 276: After sending out that message in a bottle stating my location, I've been bombarded with junk mail."

At least if a telemarketer calls, one can ask politely to be taken off their list. Dodging unwanted email is far more difficult. The apparently unlimited access spammers have to my email addresses makes me feel like the luckless castaway. I post an online resume, say, and instead of getting real job offers in response, I get deluged with 80 new spam messages a day -- and these are the bizarre type that really could use some intervention from the Men in Black. Where is the legislation that can cut these people off at the knees? Aside from one or two high profile cases where notorious spammers have been hauled into custody, as far as I can see most of them are free to trade their fake Rolexes, casino sites, male enhancement drugs, bank scams and bizarre land deals, not to mention the blatant purveying of sex by email. There ought to be a law.

The part that totally confuses me about the spam I get is how little sense it makes. The way to make money by email is to connect with the consumer on terms they have set -- I want messages about these topics, at this frequency, and nothing else, thank you. Email can be a great builder of relationships that results in trust and openness on both sides. If you only send me email to get into my wallet without caring who I am, then you are no better than a pickpocket, and I will block your domain in a heartbeat. That's a lose-lose situation for a consumer and a marketer.

So why do spammers use the gift of email communication to send me meaningless messages? No, I am not interested in an executive job at the Australian Car Center (must have own bank account to help broker car sales), or in wonder drugs purveyed by shady characters, or in meeting bored 20-year-old women from Russia, or in playing blackjack (even with the $500 bonus you promised). But perhaps my favorite was the following message, which caught my eye as I am a copywriter by trade, and have spent my adult lifetime honing my craft and competing in a tough market to make a good living from it:


Subject: Desperately needed available writers
If you can at least write at a basic ninth grade level. You too can make money - lots and lots of it.

Gee, if only I had known! Writing is easy and can make me rich!

Just last night I received perhaps the scariest email of all. It was from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, offering me discounted tickets. I don't go to theme parks and I don't know where they got my email address from, but the sender was really Six Flags, so I felt confident enough to click the "unsubscribe" button. What a mistake. On the unsubscribe Web page, the following eerie message was displayed:

Thanks for unsubscribing to our mailing list. You will no longer knowingly receive future emails from Six Flags.

I've been warned.

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