Ad Trade Groups Build Consensus on E-Mail Practices

ORLANDO, FL — Advertising's largest trade associations released guidelines for e-mail marketing practices yesterday that are identical to the Direct Marketing Association's recommendations announced last week.

The set of nine guidelines aims to defend practices that separate legitimate e-mail from spam for the members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers and the DMA.

“These new joint guidelines are built on the DMA's e-mail marketing guidelines, which they've followed for the last few years,” said Kipp Cheng, vice president and director of public affairs at the AAAA, New York.

Most of the guidelines derive from a combination of best practices and common sense. However, like the recommendations released separately by the DMA's Association of Interactive Marketing, these joint guidelines do not define spam.

“The definition of spam is inherent in these guidelines,” said Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs at the DMA. “If a marketer or advertiser doesn't do any of these things, then, by definition, it is sending out spam.”

Four of the nine guidelines adopted by the ad trade groups have legal teeth within the DMA.

“The only association in this group that has an e-mail guidelines structure is the DMA,” Mastria said. “So the DMA can expel members if they violate these guidelines.”

The No. 1 guideline says that the subject line of an e-mail must be honest and not misleading or deceptive. Second, a valid return e-mail address and the physical address of the sender should be clearly identified. Third, an e-mail should clearly identify the sender and subject matter at the start of the message.

Finally, “remove” means “remove.” The associations insist this electronic feature must be reliable, functional and prompt in every e-mail.

The other five guidelines in the document are suggestions.

For example, marketers and advertisers are advised that all commercial e-mail, except for billing purposes, must offer consumers a clear and conspicuous electronic option to be removed from lists for future e-mail messages from the sender.

The guidelines are clear that marketers should not get e-mail addresses surreptitiously through automated mechanisms like robots or spiders without the consumer or customer's consent.

In another recommendation, the groups insist that “e-mail lists must not be sold or provided to unrelated third parties unless the owner of the list has provided notice and the ability to be removed from such transfer to each address on the list.”

Last, but not least, a commercial e-mail should contain the sender's privacy policy, either within the body of the e-mail or through a Web link.

“From the AAAA's perspective, it is useful because it allows our member agencies to understand what self-regulatory practices to abide by in order to present legitimate, consumer-friendly practices in e-mail marketing,” Cheng said.

The AAAA, ANA and DMA back a single national spam law to differentiate legitimate e-mail from spam. This would greatly simplify enforcement and compliance, in contrast to the many anti-spam laws on the books or works in progress.

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