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*Love Bug Outbreak May Hurt E-Mail Prospecting

While e-mail has already struggled to reach its potential as a customer prospecting tool, yesterday’s outbreak of “The Love Bug” or the “Love Letter” virus is sure to make e-mail prospecting an even more difficult proposition.

By yesterday afternoon some 90 percent of corporate computers had been exposed to the “Love Letter” virus, according to reports. DaimlerChrysler, The Motion Picture Association of America, the Federal Reserve and many others were affected by the virus.

With the outbreak came harsh reprimands from IT professionals who scolded employees for opening unknown attachments.

This is bad news for companies running customer acquisition programs using attachments considering the majority of marketing messages are sent to consumers at work, according to Jim Cirini, director of corporate communications for YesMail, a Netcentives company, Chicago.

As a result of this latest virus outbreak, if a consumer does not know who an e-mail attachment is coming from they may be afraid of it, said David McKay, vice president of marketing for San Francisco-based Post Communications, a Netcentives company. “It heightens the sensitivity that attachments could be problematic. If it happens too often, people will be scared of attachments.”

However, e-mail marketers were largely unfazed by the outbreak. NetCreations, Inc., New York, reported that only one client decided not to send out a mailing on Thursday because of the mayhem.

The large databases possessed by e-mail marketers, which max out in the millions, apparently were not affected by the virus. Both YesMail and Netcreations said their databases are on separate systems and do not receive inbound e-mail messages.

Even if Netcreations’ database were to have been exposed it would not have been affected since the company does not use the Microsoft platform for its files. The virus feeds off of the Microsoft Outlook program specifically.

E-mail marketers have long worked to appease customer fears. YesMail, for example, includes its company name in the subject line of all of its mailings. “It comes down to who’s sending the message and whether it’s a trusted source,” Cirini said.

Many of Post Communications e-mail programs are retention programs where the user has already agreed to receive marketing messages. “It’s a retention newsletter,” said McKay. “It’s not some random e-mail, ‘I love you’ or shop at this porno site.”

While HTML and rich media e-mails will continue to make the attachment obsolete, McKay said, “It will always be an issue. There will still be systems that don’t take HTML. If there’s a strong need to get a file to a customer, they may have to do it via attachment depending on what the (recipient’s) mail system is.”

Seeing that the “Love Bug” corrupted important files such as .Jpeg picture files, corporations could feel the effects of the virus for months to come. The “Melissa” virus, which did not destroy the user’s files, reportedly cost businesses $80 million.

However, there is speculation that effects of the virus could have been far worse. There were reports that the virus failed to achieve one of its ultimate goals — stealing the users personal data. Apparently, the virus tries to download a file called “Win-Bugsfix.exe” from the Internet. This file was allegedly created to scan the user’s memory for network passwords. It then attempted to send them back to the creator of the virus.

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