E-Mailers Urge Consumer Steps for Delivery

With spam filters differentiating between known and unknown senders, commercial e-mailers are pushing customers to take steps to ensure they receive commercial e-mail messages.

CNET Network plans to advertise the need for its newsletter recipients to add trusted businesses' “from” addresses to their e-mail address book in a campaign to run in several CNET e-mail newsletters. CNET plans to send 12 million e-mails with the ad messages starting in the next few weeks. Creative includes the tag line, “Don't miss out. Get your important e-mail.” It gives instructions on adding CNET to the address book.

The campaign, designed by New York-based e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive, emphasizes the need for consumers to proactively protect themselves from overzealous spam filters that can disable features in messages, shuttle them to the bulk mail folder or block them entirely.

“It's sort of customer education for us in light of changing times in the industry,” said Sam Parker, senior vice president at CNET Networks. “We want to make sure that customers [who] receive messages from us know how to add us to their address book.”

Some ISPs, including AOL and MSN, do not display HTML images and links of e-mail messages from unknown senders. Google's fledgling Gmail e-mail service also follows this practice. Other e-mail clients, like Microsoft's Outlook, and spam filters also accord preferential treatment to senders in the address book.

Steps readied by Internet service providers to sort wanted e-mail from unwanted should only increase the payoff for getting into the address book, said George Bilbrey, vice president and general manager of deliverability services at Return Path, a New York e-mail assurance firm.

Earlier this month, AOL bought Mailblocks, the maker of a challenge-response e-mail system. The system, which AOL plans to offer to its 23.4 million subscribers in a few months, blocks mail from senders not in a user's e-mail address book until the sender completes a challenge.

Deployment of the system could pose challenges to e-mailers. A similar system deployed by EarthLink, called spamBlocker, has been adopted by 13 percent of its 5.3 million users since it was introduced in May 2003. A similar adoption rate by AOL subscribers would result in nearly 1 million challenge-response users between the two ISPs.

According to Return Path, 19 percent of permission e-mail never reaches recipients. Jupiter Research estimates the cost of mistakenly blocked e-mail will rise from $322 million in 2004 to $419 million in 2008.

“The biggest challenge is getting the consumer to add you to the address book,” Bilbrey said. “They have to physically do something, not something really onerous, but somewhat difficult.”

Al DiGuido, CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, said consumer inertia would be overcome by growing frustration at billing notices, order confirmations and other important e-mails winding up in the bulk mail folder or lost.

“Over time, you're going to hear a whole litany of stories of people who have had it happen to them,” he said. “And it's not going to be a funny thing.”

Bigfoot created ad templates for seven industries as part of its “Add to Address Book” campaign. The template for financial services features a photo of a distraught man with text reading, “Jason used spam filters. Jason didn't get his payment reminder. Jason's credit card was denied.” The e-mail ad explains that adding a sender to the address book can ensure such messages are received.

Bigfoot offers the customizable “Add to Address Book” e-mail ads to its 140 clients, charging $2,500 for sending, hosting and reporting. The ads can run as e-mails, banner ads or be adopted for print and billboards.

“It's going to be a matter of frequency and coverage to get out to a large enough audience and keep reminding them,” DiGuido said.

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