CAPTIVA ISLAND, Fla. -- A heated debate bubbled up Thursday on the morality of the email list growth strategy known as eAppend, highlighted by sharp condemnation from Jordan Cohen, vice president-business development at Pontiflex.
“It's not really okay to do,” he said bluntly at the MediaPost Email Insider Summit.
It may not be illegal in the U.S., but Cohen noted that the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) came out against it last year, referring to it as an “abusive practice” and creating “significant risks of violating consent requirements in privacy and anti-spam legislation.”
He argued that MAAWG serves as de facto industry law, or at least offers guidelines and policies that must be followed. MAAWG members stretch from AOL to Cablevision, Constant Contact to Sprint.
“At the end of the day, the real question for marketers who do email append is do you want to break the law?” Cohen said. “Or are you going to play by the rules?” Using a metaphor, he said eAppend practitioners-for-hire "are bad news. They can either get you in jail or at least get a lot of points on your license against you and stick with you for a long time.”
Pontiflex serves “sign-up” ads on mobile and Web platforms.
The eAppend concept involves a marketer using a third-party service provider to help build an email list, sometimes using an opt-out permission message.
Experian CheetahMail has come out against the eAppend strategy. Exact Target says clients can't engage in eAppend tactics and other email service providers (ESPs) will drop clients who do. "Your vendor will walk away from you -- they will say we don't want your money because you are going to destroy our network," the fired-up Cohen said.
Cohen was not the only one to take a stance against e-appending. Bonnie Malone, a director in response consulting at ESP Return Path, agreed with him. “It’s a non-permission way of acquiring email addresses … it's not morally, ethically the right thing to do,” she said.
But Andrew Kordek, co-founder and chief strategist at Trendline Interactive, said the strategy can be effective if done with care, although he’s never recommended it. He dismissed some of the negative comments in the morality realm. Responding to Cohen’s comments, he asked rhetorically: “Who here thinks that MAAWG is the law? Thank you very much.”
“If done correctly … [eAppend] could actually be pretty profitable,” he said, suggesting there should be a focus on how to make the practice better, such as making opt-out opportunities more prominent.
Suzanne Shaughnessy, a senior account executive at FreshAddress, said eAppend should not be positioned as a list growth strategy, but as an “engagement” or “retention” strategy. “If you are doing something with a database of people who are engaged with you in other channels, then you’re going to see good ROI if you carry through and do a very respectful program,” she said.
Dela Quist, AlchemyWorx CEO, questioned Jordan Cohen's strong stance, suggesting it may be rooted in Pontiflex being in direct competition with the e-Append practice.
"That was a little below the belt, but that’s okay," Trendline Interactive's Morgan Stewart said.
Cohen responded that his company believes consumers are in control and marketers should get to the point where consumers welcome them into their lives. "We believe that permission is relevant across the board," he said, adding that he was not trying to "shame anybody."
“You can’t ace the entire practice out because of some people doing it poorly or some companies doing it poorly in the name of making a big data sale,” said Sarah Barber, an executive at Infogroup, which offers eAppend services. “It’s not about the data sale. It’s about connecting with the customer.”
It sounds like both the session and the article glazed over an important issue; appending an email address to a database is not by itself a major problem; it's actually emailing the recipient without adequate consent that's the problem. The hangup is that the process to gain consent has historically been via an opt-out request, whereas today what we're advocating is to send an opt-in request. With declining readability and deliverability, the traditional opt-out approach adds more risk than value in today's email environment. For an industry that has defined itself on consent-based communications, it's unfortunate we're so stuck on the past and not focused on how we can optimize all forms of consent migrating users from an offline to online relationship.