Source: DMA Deleted Spam Definition From Best Practices

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When the DMA's Association for Interactive Marketing releases its long-awaited e-mail best practices document this month, it will be missing a crucial element: a definition of spam, said a source who helped draft the recommendations.


The news comes amid charges that the DMA is trying to water down the definition of spam. Crafted by AIM's Council for Responsible E-mail and sent to the Direct Marketing Association for approval, the document is expected to come out in the next two weeks.


The document is an effort to help e-mail marketers navigate sensitive issues. However, with spam having become a media and legislative obsession in recent months, the document's content will become critical as legislators and others eye it for evidence that DMA members can police themselves.


In a June draft obtained by DM News, the document "E-mail Delivery Best Practices for Marketers and List Owners" had a definition highlighted in a box: "Definition of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (Spam) - The act of sending unsolicited bulk commercial e-mails to an individual's e-mail address without having an existing or prior business/personal relationship or ob-taining consent/permission."


However, the DMA had that passage deleted before it would approve the document, said the source, who requested anonymity.


"We felt it very important to define what spam is because the document deals a lot with avoiding tactics that create spam," said the source, who added that there were multiple drafts of the document created in June. "The first thing the DMA came back with was they crossed out the definition. They said it was too broad."


At press time, the DMA had not returned calls for comment.


The DMA contends that spam is fraudulent unsolicited bulk e-mail, and the organization has been lobbying hard to ensure that any federal legislation crafted to fight spam takes aim at senders of fraudulent pitches and ostensibly not its members.


Most everyone else in the spam debates would define the word more in line with what was in the CRE's best practices document. But the word spam has such negative connotations that the DMA wants to distance its members from it.


"We consider spam anything that's bulk and that lies about either the identity of the sender, the offer or the ability to opt yourself out," Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs at the DMA, said in an interview on the subject several weeks ago. "There's a qualitative and quantitative difference between that and sending me, 'Hey, there's a last-minute sale on fares to Puerto Rico this weekend. Do you want to go?' "


Defining spam simply as unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail "doesn't take into account the fact that e-mail and the Internet can in fact be an engine of commerce, and, if done responsibly, that doesn't mean that people's e-mail boxes are going to get cluttered up," he said.


This common definition "also presumes that everybody knows everything about every possible offering out there in the world," Mastria said. "The valuable role that advertising plays in the economy is that it lets people know about new products and services. If you take a strict opt-in approach, how does a new entrant to the market come along?"


Meanwhile, the source who said the DMA had the definition of spam deleted also said the DMA changed several recommendations in the CRE document from "must dos" to "should dos." The changes were made "to set a lower bar," the source said, and the DMA wanted the term spam "intentionally used without defining it so it remains vague."


Also, the DMA has never endorsed permission-based e-mail marketing. This is because some DMA members and influential board members think that endorsing opt-in e-mail would be a "slippery slope" leading to calls for the demise of opt-out direct mail prospecting. Notably, however, the best practices draft defines permission. This would be the first time the DMA or an affiliate defined the term in relation to e-mail. The June draft contained the following:


"Forms of Consent/Permission include:


Affirmative Consent:


· Double Opt-in: A user has elected to receive e-mail newsletters or standalone commercial messages. A confirmation e-mail is then sent to the user to which he/she must reply (either by replying to the message or clicking on a URL contained within) before the list owner may add them to their list.


· Confirmed Opt-in: A user has elected to receive e-mail newsletters or standalone commercial messages. A confirmation e-mail is sent but user is not required to take further action in order to be included on the list. The confirmation e-mail includes the option to "Unsubscribe," "Opt-Out" or cancel the subscription.


· Opt-in: A user has actively elected to receive e-mail newsletters or standalone commercial messages by checking an opt-in box. No confirmation e-mail is sent and user is not required to take further action to be included on the list.


Consent:


· Opt-out: A user must request not to be included on an e-mail list at the point of collection (by unchecking a pre-check opt-in box) or with subsequent communications."


Many direct marketers throw these terms around, but to date no consensus exists on their meanings.


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