I have always assumed that the role of the Direct Marketing Association was to protect the marketing industry from practices and legislation that can damage our ability to do business. That is why I’m confused by the DMA’s position on spam.
Most marketers understand that spam damages our ability to do business on the Internet. It erodes the trust of consumers, clogs e-mail boxes and steals bandwidth. But now, with the DMA’s recent announcement of the E-Mail Preference Service, the DMA has taken a proactive step to protect spammers.
The cover story for the E-MPS is a simple one. It is a nationwide opt-out database that e-mail marketers can use – for $100 a year – to purge their e-mail prospect lists of those people who don’t want to receive unsolicited commercial e-mail. It is supposed to protect consumers from spam by letting them say no to e-mail marketing.
In reality, it is just another of the DMA’s efforts to preserve the status quo and protect spamming as a marketing tool. Opt-out lists such as the E-MPS don’t solve the problems associated with spam, and actually encourage spamming by providing the veneer of legitimacy.
The E-MPS has one basic application – to purge spam e-mail address lists. The problem is, how do you enforce compliance with a global opt-out policy? The E-MPS is intended to be a tool for DMA members, but most legitimate marketers will have little use for it. They have already secured the permission of current and potential customers to send them e-mail and don’t need to purge their lists.
Spammers won’t use the E-MPS either. Those who make a living spamming aren’t DMA members and have no incentive to pay $100 to use the E-MPS or other opt-out list; they just want to send as much e-mail as possible.
The only possible purpose of the E-MPS is to legitimize spamming. The DMA wants Congress and the public to believe it is helping to police our industry and protect consumers. To achieve that goal, it is serving up a red herring in the form of the E-MPS in hopes of fooling lawmakers into doing nothing to stop spam.
Unsolicited commercial e-mail, whether it is DMA approved or not, by definition shifts the delivery costs from the advertiser to the consumer. The consumer pays for access to the Internet. Part of that cost comes from the delivery of spam. In other words, the hundreds of thousands of spam messages being delivered every day are arriving postage due.
Angry consumers make lousy customers, but that is exactly the atmosphere being cultivated by the DMA. By defending and promoting a practice that costs consumers time and money, the DMA is helping to poison the well for all legitimate e-mail marketers.
The DMA is telling consumers that they should register on the E-MPS to avoid e-mail advertising. Consumers who have opted in to receive materials aren’t going to know what to do. They’ll not know if registering with E-MPS will remove them from programs in which they’ve registered. For marketers, confused consumers are nearly as unappealing as angry ones.
Mainstream marketers have spent a lot of time and money collecting e-mail addresses – and the permission to use them- from consumers. Common sense argues that these lists don’t need to be purged.
By announcing the E-MPS and actively protecting unsolicited commercial e-mail as a legitimate business communications tool, DMA president Robert Wientzen has publicly committed to defending the rights of spammers to practice their craft. The DMA is damaging its membership in a knee-jerk reaction through an uninformed position whose end result will be protecting pornographers and con artists at the expense of legitimate mainstream business.
I would argue that the DMA should actively and publicly support legislation that protects the consumer and the marketing industry by ending the practice of spamming. A vehicle for achieving that goal already exists in Congressman Gary Miller’s HR 2162, the “Can Spam Act.” HR 2162 empowers Internet service providers to protect their subscribers from spam via a no-trespass law while preserving the e-mail marketing rights of nearly all DMA members.
In the end, the E-MPS is nothing but a smoke screen designed to confuse lawmakers and consumers into believing that the marketing industry is interested in protecting e-mail users from spam. In reality, the DMA’s only interest is in protecting the status quo, regardless of the consequences for the consumer or the industry.
Ian Oxman is president of e-mail marketing firm chooseyourmail.com, Chicago. His e-mail address is [email protected]