Column: With Guidance Like This…

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Vmyths.com, a computer geek site aimed at debunking virus hoaxes, posted the following anti-direct marketing blurb referring to an Aug. 19 article in DM News about many marketers' plans to scale back some e-mail on and around Sept. 11:


"An absolutely true story -- the spammers of the world announced they'll abandon the Internet on the anniversary of the [Sept. 11] attacks."


Vmyths.com likened direct marketers going conservative with e-mail on Sept. 11 to rats abandoning a sinking ship.


I considered firing off a friendly e-mail to the blurb's author along the lines of: "Listen, jackass, our readers -- most of them, anyway -- are not spammers. They are legitimate marketers grappling with an unprecedented marketplace condition. So why don't you take your snide, myopic little comments and ..." well, you get the picture.


Good thing that e-mail never went out. One week later, the blurb's author could have fired back as evidence that his characterization is accurate the following part of a statement from Direct Marketing Association president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen:


"E-mail and telephone marketing campaigns, in particular, raise red flags. While it is more difficult to control the delivery date of direct mail and catalogs, e-mail marketers and telephone marketers can more closely control when they conduct their outbound marketing campaigns.


"Therefore, the DMA is suggesting that its members either refrain from conducting unsolicited e-mail and telephone marketing campaigns on Wednesday, Sept. 11, or conduct those campaigns with the utmost caution and respect on this solemn day of remembrance."


First, let's give the DMA credit for what assuredly were good intentions. OK, enough of that.


Refrain from conducting unsolicited e-mail marketing on Sept. 11? Or do it with the utmost caution and respect? Does this mean that on the other 364 days it's "SPAAAAMS AWAAAY!!!"?


As evidence that this was more than just a simple unfortunate choice of words, the statement was issued twice over a three-day period, once from Wientzen's mailbox and once in the DMA's daily e-mail news roundup a day after a call from DM News asking whether they knew what they were saying.


Where have these people been for the past five years? Conducting unsolicited e-mail marketing with caution and respect is an oxymoron. How about refrain from conducting unsolicited e-mail marketing, period?


The issue of whether to use e-mail or telephone marketing on Sept. 11 has nothing to do with the ability to time delivery, and everything to do with the two media being highly intrusive marketing vehicles. Pitching by these two methods is sensitive in the best of times.


And e-mail's ability to rankle is in a class by itself. It is so cheap to send that it lacks the economic governors of other media. Spammers contend that this levels the playing field with larger companies.


The rest of the direct marketing world understands that e-mail's cheapness has resulted in porn and pyramid scheme marketers fouling arguably the most elegant marketing medium ever invented. But the rest of the direct marketing world is also increasingly being covered in the stink these spammers leave behind. And don't think the folks who want to see direct marketing legislated out of existence aren't aware of this.


Anti-spammers -- and we're not just talking couldn't-get-a-date-if-they-owned-a-Lamborghini, pencil-armed, Star-Wars heads here -- long have considered the DMA part of the problem. And statements like "refrain from conducting unsolicited e-mail and telephone marketing campaigns on Wednesday, Sept. 11, or conduct those campaigns with the utmost caution and respect on this solemn day of remembrance" are why.


This well-intended but failed attempt to take the moral high ground easily could have been on target by saying something like, "refrain from e-mail prospecting on Sept. 11," or "given e-mail's sensitivities, it's best not to engage in electronic hard sells on Sept. 11," or "limit outbound consumer e-mail to regularly scheduled and expected communications on Sept. 11."


Instead, we have the equivalent of "on the off chance that your IQ is somewhere around the temperature of a beer cooler and you have the sensitivity of a pack of hyenas on a dead wildebeest, it is probably a good idea on Sept. 11 to refrain from commercial activity that many people find objectionable to begin with."


Ugh.


As if the forces lobbying for overly restrictive anti-spam legislation didn't have enough ammunition.


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