CAN-SPAM Doesn't Really Matter (At Least The Way You Think)

Earlier this week on July 7, the FTC's revisions to CAN-SPAM took effect. If you've worked in the email marketing world for any period of time, you have probably tired of hearing about CAN-SPAM. On any day, people misunderstand or misinterpret the act in any number of ways. The power of CAN-SPAM lies not in the act, but in what the act represents and the message it should deliver to everyone in the email business.

As an email service provider, it's always humorous when a prospective client sends us an RFP stating that we be responsible for ensuring they are CAN SPAM compliant. No one can ensure that you will follow the law. Wouldn't it be great if you could make your mechanic responsible for your speeding ticket? It just doesn't work that way. Every mailer is responsible for what they mail. An email service provider can ensure that the mechanics are in place (i.e. the unsubscribe page functions properly, and that the people who unsubscribed from your list are not mailed to again). However, what you mail and who you mail it to is as important as the mechanical components of your message when it comes to following the letter of the law.



I want to argue, however, that while it is important that you follow it, the letter of the law in the case of CAN-SPAM doesn't really matter. CAN-SPAM is a political response to a real problem to which a political solution does not exist. Anyone with a basic understanding of how the Internet works knows that our Congress outlawing spam won't slow it down. But politics usually trumps intelligence and logic. The Act is a gauntlet established by Congress designed to look good, but that accomplishes next to nothing when it comes to stemming the tide of true spam. What it does show is the power of the political process, and why it is important for us as an industry to go beyond CAN-SPAM to ensure that this Act is not the first in a series of steps that damage a great marketing communications channel.

Every emailer needs to be a responsible emailer. This means going beyond the letter of the law and looking at messaging from the perspective of the recipient. For many marketers, this means completely changing their perspective on the medium. Attend practically any email trade event, or read any of the trade press, and one will find the word "relevance" is used like a mantra. Yet some of the same people that attend these conferences and read the articles are likely to turn around and "blast" (a word that should be banished from any email marketer's vocabulary) a message per day during the holiday season to their house list to bump up sales. The conventional thinking of many of these marketers is "Well, they will see my message as relevant." They don't!

This kind of marketing, and other abuses of a marketing tool that offers incredible segmentation power, testing capability and true one-to-one customization, is what legislators will point to the next time they decide our industry is their cause célèbre by announcing that their e-mailboxes are too full of irrelevant messages.

Don't think they won't; we are a juicy target. Everyone hates spam, so politically you look great if you campaign against it (and if it hurts legitimate business instead of stemming the tide of spam, but gets the politicians reelected... so be it). If you don't think it can happen, speak with a telemarketing company about the Do Not Call List. Irresponsible mailing could easily kill the Golden Goose, and along with it many legitimate mailers who are using the medium responsibly.

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