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Editorial: Petty Beyond Belief

An example of anti-spam zealots at their mind-numbingly inappropriate worst comes this week in the form of whiny little ISP system administrators who are upset over anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC's settlement with Experian eMarketing earlier this month.

Under the settlement, neither Experian eMarketing, Denver, nor its clients have to implement so-called fully verified opt-in e-mail address collection, the process where people who sign up for an e-mail list must respond to a verification e-mail to remain on the list.

As a result, these anti-spam weenies are reportedly creating a list of IP addresses assigned to Experian, aiming to permanently block each one. Sources tell me the effect will be negligible at best. Good.

Meanwhile, however, the direct marketing industry is under siege. Anthrax fears have many people afraid to open their mail. The industry's biggest conference — the Direct Marketing Association's fall annual in Chicago at the end of this month — may be a giant ghost town because so many folks are afraid to fly.

According to the DMA, direct mail generated $326 billion in consumer sales and $201.9 billion in business-to-business sales last year.

Call it junk mail. Call it whatever you want. But make no mistake, the direct marketing industry in trouble means the nation in trouble.

And under current conditions, even a remote possibility that direct marketers may be distracted in the slightest by system administrators who fret over whether a box asking for permission to send e-mail offers in the future is pre-checked “yes” is insulting beyond words.

Though the DMA never officially denounced opt-out e-mail marketing, its members embraced opt in as the only acceptable e-mail marketing practice long ago.

As a result, the debate between mainstream direct marketers and anti-spam zealots is not about whether it's OK to send unsolicited commercial e-mail. It's about how many permission safeguards are enough.

The issues are picayune.

“Do they have to respond to the verification e-mail to stay on the list? Or do they stay on the list unless they respond to the verification e-mail?”

My god, who cares?

The hardcore anti-spam camp sounds more obscene by the day.

And as direct marketers look to e-mail to solve at least some of their problems, they are reportedly approaching the situation in a fairly typical analytical and plodding fashion.

No, they haven't stopped mailing, but they're a realistic bunch.

Once news of the anthrax attacks hit, “everyone said, 'Whoa, people won't be opening mail,' ” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president of Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL.

Naturally, they began exploring alternatives. More aggressive e-mail certainly looks like one of them, but exact strategies aren't immediately apparent.

“Marketers are asking, 'Should I be appending? Should I be renting lists? Should I be doing more e-mail retention marketing?' ” Schwedelson said.

They're also worried about what increased volume might do to the medium, according to Jeanniey Mullen, general manager, Grey eMMetrics, a division of New York ad agency Grey Direct.

“There's some definite concern that as everybody turns to this, it's going to negatively impact response rates,” she said, adding that clients are heavily focused on targeting strategies as a result. “They're envisioning everybody running to e-mail and it becoming a non-responsive medium if everybody just starts sending non-strategic blast e-mails.”

Doesn't sound like the talk of a bunch of spam-happy marketers to me.

As a result, I have a personal message to every system administrator who is blocking Experian's IP addresses.

Excuse me … dumb ass? You're policing the wrong neighborhood.

We welcome your views, opinions, news tips and questions — by phone to 212/925-7300, Ext. 220; by mail to iMarketing News, 100 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013; by fax to 212/925-8754; or by e-mail to [email protected]. Letters to the editor must be accompanied by a daytime telephone number and may be edited for space.

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