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One Year Later, Is E-MPS a Relic?

The Direct Marketing Association’s E-Mail Preference Service celebrated its first birthday this week but still cannot shake the perception that it is more useful as a spamming tool than as an opt-out e-mail service.

The service, which is free to consumers at www.e-mps.org and $100 a year for marketers, enables people worldwide to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail from DMA member companies and other marketers that choose to use it. E-MPS is similar to the DMA’s Telephone Preference Service and Mail Preference Service.

And that, critics say, is part of its problem.

E-MPS, they note, is essentially an old world mentality grafted onto a new world electronic-age service.

Falling short of calling it a failure, John Lawlor, president of EmailChannel Inc., Boca Raton, FL, which runs the MailMutt commercial e-mail search engine, said the E-MPS service was ill-conceived.

“They’re taking a postal world product and trying to push it into an electronic world,” Lawlor said. “The concept has not been embraced in the electronic medium.”

A DMA spokesman said the organization’s executives were traveling to a conference and were unavailable to comment.

The service’s critics also note that the DMA is working on the assumption that opt-out marketing is an acceptable approach with e-mail. Many say opt-out will not work because of the nature of e-mail and the economics of spam. DMA members that use the service are required to cross-reference their e-mail lists with the E-MPS list to remove addresses of consumers who have registered with the service.

Another problem is compliance: How do you police a global opt-out policy? While E-MPS is intended to be used by legitimate e-mail marketers, many of them say they have no need for such a service because they already have customers’ permission to send e-mail.

Since the mainstream marketing community considers unsolicited e-mail unethical, the only marketers that could benefit from E-MPS are spammers, said Reggie Brady, vice president of strategy and partnerships at e-mail service provider FloNetwork, Toronto.

“It’s just not constructed properly to meet the needs of the industry,” Brady said. “Anybody who’s ethical is permission-based to begin with, so they don’t need it.”

Then there’s the problem of batch processing. The DMA said it can keep processing time down to 48 hours. But many in the industry think that is too long and say 24 hours would be better.

“Some companies are getting thousands of names a day, and the turnaround time for processing is not good at the moment,” Brady said.

However, Lawlor said the failure of E-MPS cannot be laid entirely at the DMA’s door. Some of the blame can be placed on the anti-spam lobby, which did a good job of painting the service with the spam brush, he said.

“The anti-spam folks did an extremely good job in positioning it as helping spammers,” Lawlor noted. “But the DMA has worked very hard to try and make it work. They have an uphill battle to fight.”

The hard-core spammers, he said, are not DMA members and will not use the service.

“They don’t really care,” Lawlor said. “Spammers don’t run their lists up against the DMA.”

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