Dinner with the King of Spam

Law 6: Court Attention at All Cost. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses. From "The 48 Laws of Power."

Last week I had dinner with a guy whom some people call the king of spam - Scott Richter, chief executive officer of Opt In Real Big -- and I have to say I enjoyed myself. The occasion was an Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association (AiMA) meeting on spam and I was asked to be the moderator.

For those of you who don't know Scott, he is the one of the most famous (or infamous) of as he calls it the "high volume e-mailers." In December Scott's company, along with Synergy6 (of American-Giveaways fame) were sued by Microsoft and the New York State attorney general for allegedly sending illegal spam campaigns.

Now I haven't read this anywhere else, so I assume it's a scoop: according to Scott he has reached a settlement with the State of New York and although the Microsoft case is still looming, Scott didn't seem worried. In fact all of it seemed like just another day in the life of a person who obviously enjoys the attention and has learned how to convert attention into profit.



The week before the AiMA conference, he had been featured in People magazine and a week or so before that had been the subject of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" interview that made its way virally around the interactive advertising community. The AiMA group had Scott sign the People magazine article and gave it away as a door prize. We were definitely in the presence of a celebrity.

This is what those who attack folks like Scott don't understand: The more you attack him, the more you ridicule him, the more you sue and threaten him, the more famous and therefore the more powerful he becomes. Right after the New York lawsuit, his business went up. And now he is coming out with his own Spam King clothing line.

Law 21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker - Seem Dumber than Your Mark. No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick then is to make your victims feel smart - and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives. From "The 48 Laws of Power."

A hysterical "Daily Show" episode on email marketing features Scott looking like a sort of dumb huckster proud of the fact that people are just dying to get his emails selling "clitoreous" cream. It goes on to broadcast his email address, to great hilarity, at the end of the piece. The video was widely distributed through industry circles and we all had a good laugh at what we perceived was the typical mentality of top spammer. Except we were wrong. The whole thing was staged and took 4 hours to shoot. As Scott told me: "I know how to pronounce the word clitoris." For Scott, ALL publicity is good publicity.

Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter. Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual - the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them, they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter. From "The 48 Laws of Power."

This week Scott, as he told me he was going to do over drinks last week, filed suit against Ironport Systems who just purchased SpamCop, claiming that they are interfering with him doing business. SpamCop, which was basically a one-man operation until IronPort picked it up, was responsible for blacklisting the IP addresses of servers that have been accused of sending spam. SpamCop has set up a legal defense fund to help pay for its attorneys fees.

Whether Scott wins or loses against Spamcop is beside the point. The game here is one of sending a message against anyone who plans on getting in Opt-in Real Big's way, a tactic that has been used to great effect in the contextual marketing space.

And here is the question I was left asking myself: seated next to me was a marketer that I respected. He told me how he had first met Scott. A while back, the marketer was trying to hit certain goals for the email campaigns of their clients and none of the lists they were using were working. They called Scott, and Scott's company delivered the results they needed. So is he the King of Spam because he does what he does bigger than anyone else? Or is he the King of Spam because he does what he does better than anyone else?

I'm still wrestling with the answer.

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