Unsolicited Email Marketing

By , July 30, 2009

I just politely ended a call from a prospective client, when the client indicated that his business acquired customers by sending them unsolicited commercial email.

This particular merchant acquires the names and email addresses of certain professionals (for example, real-estate agents), and sends them emails which they never asked to receive (and which most of them do not wish to receive).  When I objected that this was problematic because it was not “opt-in” email marketing, the merchant dismissed the idea, stating that anyone who asked to be removed would never be sent email again.  Therefore, it was “okay.”  When I pointed out that this practice is prohibited in the contracts of all major internet service providers and “backbone” network providers, he told me this didn’t matter because he owned his own ISP.  Again, he said that this meant it was “okay” to broadcast unsolicited commercial email to anyone he wanted.

I disagreed, and I told him that I will not do business with any company that sends unsolicited commercial email.

Spamming is never “okay” to me.  No, this type of spamming isn’t technically illegal — the CAN-SPAM law allows merchants to acquire and send emails to anyone they want, provided only that they remove anyone who “opts out.”  Of course, all internet service providers and “backbone” providers prohibit this practice (although many are very lax in enforcing these rules), but since the enactment of the CAN-SPAM law, it is technically not “illegal.”

Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right, nor that it’s ethical.

Put yourself in the shoes of one of those professionals being “targeted” by this merchant (maybe you’re already on that list). Think about how many companies want to solicit business with a real estate agent, for example:  moving companies, title insurance companies, escrow companies, property-insurance agents, mortgage brokers, inspection services, pest-control companies, landscaping companies, banks, real estate investors, advertising-specialty retailers, advertising-sales people, directory web sites, website developers, software vendors, office-supply retailers, and so on.  If I spent 20 minutes I’d probably identify at least 100 categories. And there are probably at least 100 companies in each category that would love to have the real-estate agent receive their advertising message.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if the cost were low enough, there are at least one million businesses that would like to solicit that real-estate agent to do business with them. And they’d gladly send him an email once every week.

(Hey, it’s “okay” because if he just responds every time and asks to be removed, he won’t get any more email from that particular company.  He just needs to spend 30 seconds “removing” himself from each list; to be removed from a million lists, it  would only take 500,000 minutes, which is just 8,333 hours, or a mere 1,000 eight-hour days. What the heck — but let’s be generous and assume that he can submit 10 ‘remove’ requests every minute [6 seconds each], so he only needs to spend 200 eight-hour days each year removing himself from mailing lists. That would leave several dozen eight-hour days every year to accomplish real work, so it must be “okay.”)

Fortunately, as I mentioned above, most internet service providers prohibit this activity, and most people who advise merchants urge them not to upset prospective customers by sending spam.  As a result, no legitimate, ethical company sends “spam.”  Nevertheless, companies and ISPs spend billions of dollars every year on desparate efforts to block blizzards of spam emails, including both “illegal” spam (that doesn’t comply with the CAN-SPAM law) and “legal” spam (which technically complies with the law, but violates service agreements and threatens to overwhelm and disable the entire email infrastructure).

Unfortunately, the prospective client I spoke with today didn’t agree, and insisted that he could and would continue to send emails to the 2 million professionals on his list, as often as he thought reasonable, to try to persuade them to buy his products (or more specifically, to participate in a sales “webinar”).

I won’t provide any professional marketing services to spammers.  (I provide only ethical marketing services, and I provide them only to ethical clients.)

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