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Revenge of the Online Marketers

January 22nd, 2007 by Bob Bly

Internet users who don’t like online marketing let us online marketers know it — in loud, often abusive, profanity filled e-mails — when they don’t like our promotions.

I never really understood this: I mean, how much are you really being harmed getting an e-mail you don’t want?

Now, a recent article in Time may cause some anti-spammers to tone down their righteous indignation a bit before screaming at e-mail marketers.

When anti-spammer Mark Mumma got a few e-mails he didn’t like from Cruise.com, he posted photos of Cruise.com’s founders on his Web site and called them “spammers.”

To his surprise, Cruise.com sued Mumma for besmirching their reputations.

The case is heading for trial, and Mumma could end up paying Cruise.com $3.8 million in damages.

You may not like e-mail marketing, and if you don’t, just unsubscribe from the list sending you the e-mail you don’t want.

But as the Mumma case demonstrates, getting an e-mail you THINK may be spam does not give you carte blanche to say or do anything you please in response — even though, as a legitimate e-mail marketer, I can tell you that many people out there think it does.

Source: “A Spammer’s Revenge,” TIme, 1/15/07, p. 62.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 22nd, 2007 at 7:49 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

54 responses about “Revenge of the Online Marketers”

  1. Sean Woodruff said:

    I like the “thinkers” that complain about getting an e-mail when they have subscribed to the list.

    Don’t strain my ‘delete’ finger!

    I shouldn’t even get started on the idea of government controlling the free flow of information. No matter what the information is…

  2. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–Have to disagree.
    It’s not a question of a few emails taking up a few seconds of time. It’s thousands taking up time, bandwidth and disk space.

    I have 3416 emails sitting in my spam filter. That’s just for the past 30 days (older ones are automatically deleted!). And that’s not all… I have another 579 MB of spam waiting do die in a separate account set up to catch stuff sent to made-up names at my domain.

    All of us in the business have to realize that we are fouling our nest if we add to the muck. Yes, it’s a fraction of the cost of printing and postage to send an email. But if people stop responding, in the long run it will end up costing us more. We have to email more judiciously and target our messages far better than we’ve been doing!

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Morty: most of the four-letter invectives hurled at me, and thankfully they are few and far between, have been, as Sean notes above, from me who have doubled opted into my list asking me why I am sending them e-mail! I also have complaints from people who order my DVD product from people who wonder why it won’t play in their car CD player.

  4. Don Marti said:

    According to Time, the cruise.com mail actually was spam. The _Time_ story points out that the company used bogus headers and sent the mail unsolicited, not opt-in.

    Cruise.com apparently complied with the US “CAN-SPAM Act” but there’s a lot of stuff you can do under CAN-SPAM that is, by every normal definition, spam. Try telling your ISP that you’re going to comply only with CAN-SPAM and not with their ToS on bulk mail and see how fast you get thrown off.

    If the jury uses email, cruise.com is going to lose this case.

  5. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Don is right, if the jury uses e-mail, cruise.com’s chances of recovering damages is pretty low.

    Of course, consumers have been reacting strongly to mail that’s unwanted (or that they don’t recall requesting) for years. Back in the stone age, when I was at The Economist, we would occassionally get BREs returned to us filled with things like Holocaust denial “literature” and sand!

  6. Don Marti said:

    Another scenario goes like this…

    joe@example.com signs up for a bunch of newsletters.

    Joe leaves the company and the IS dept. forwards his mail to jane@example.com.

    Jane didn’t know about Joe’s newsletters, so reports them as spam.

    What we need to start doing is to forward Joe’s mail to Jane except for anything that’s Precedence: bulk or Precedence: list — just as USPS does. You can do this with procmail but I don’t know about many places that are yet.

  7. Bob Bly said:

    Jodi: I have been in mail order for 25 years, and have found business reply envelopes from direct mail campaigns returned to me with everything from Bible tracts to my sales letter ripped into shreds inside.

  8. Jennifer Bennett said:

    Jodi and Bob, that cracks me up. People have time to respond to direct mail? In kind? I’m picturing an 80-something couple with a bucket of sand in their kitchen who get very excited when the mail arrives. I bet their mailman has a blog.

  9. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–I would complain if you DIDN’T send me your emails!

    But as you yourself point out, it’s not just online looneys we have to deal with. I’ve gotten all kinds of hate mail and even — strangely enough — magazine subscriptions sent to the names I’ve used on direct mail promotions. (Somehow, some people thought it was some kind of revenge to copy the name and address from the letter and fill out dozens of blow-in subscription cards…. as if sticking Time and other magazines with fake subscriptions was somehow a blow against the evil forces of Junk Mail!)

    Face it. Lots of people don’t like “unsolicited offers.” And if they hate junk mail, they hate spam even more. And the frustration is growing because it’s a losing battle. Spammers have ruined it for all of us.

    For that matter, it’s not just spammers. Many of them have gone phishing… and ripping people off big-time. (Someone I know actually responded to TWO Nigerian email scams. The second time to the tune of a few thousand dollars! You’d think someone would have learned after the first time. But you just can’t legislate intelligence!)

    You take the brunt of the frustration of people who don’t know who they should really be fighting or how. The sociological term is misplaced aggression. But every time you send out an email to a list… you’re risking setting yourself up as a target. (What a twist on target marketing!)

    Here’s to better times!

    Morty

  10. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob,

    I use a Yahoo account to sign up for almost everything now. I also use it when ordering things online. This way I can keep track of where email comes from.

    I am amazed at the amount of email I get from companies. Anytime I order *anything* I opt out of future mailings. But I still get them. I unsubscribe and still receive them.

    The only email I have ever asked for is from Old Navy and that is because they paid me $5 for my email address.

    Regarding the abuse you receive, I get it, too. People are really very, very nasty. I have a double opt-in newsletter and still get people who report me as spam.

  11. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob, Dianna–People who attack you aren’t attacking YOU personally. You are innocent victims of information superhighway road rage!

    I get so many double and triple opt-in newsletters I don’t remember who they are coming from anymore! I have to check to see “who sent me this and why?” I’ve removed my name from a load of them. But the phantom returns. (One newsletter, from someone we all know, I stopped reading because there’s no more information there… only sales pitches. But I don’t want to insult the guy (and I strongly suspect he checks his lists) so I just filter it off to oblivion.

    I’m sure some of the people who attack you have no recollection of opting in or even subscribing. Maybe you should try sending an annual reminder asking if people still want to get your newsletter. (I do!)

    Morty

  12. Richard Armstrong said:

    I’m with you, Bob. I don’t get it. Especially when these militant anti-spammers claim to be in the direct marketing business themselves! I have my spam filter wide open. I open and read (or skim) all my spam, just as I open and read or skim all my direct mail. I’d consider myself guilty of professional malpractice if I did not!
    P.S. Okay, okay … if I’ve seen the same thing a dozen times, I may delete it without looking at it. But despite the fact that my filter is wide open and I’m on hundreds of lists, the whole process probably doesn’t take me more than ten minutes a day. Big deal.

  13. Bob Bly said:

    RA: I’m with you: I leave my spam filter wide open. As marketers, reading direct mail — print and online — is our continuing education. And it takes only a few minutes a day to delete the ones I don’t want. I’m not harmed. I agree: What’s the big deal?

  14. Mark W. Mumma, the WebGuy said:

    Well kids, I have to disagree with ANYONE that thinks I should have just “hit delete”.

    I get over 8,300 (last time I counted, about 2 years ago.)

    If it only takes 10 seconds to:

    A> locate an undesirable spam message.
    B> open the message
    C> search for the opt out link
    D> click the opt out link
    E> wait for the opt out page to load
    F> type in my email address
    G> click the submit button….

    …then I would be spending over 23 hours a day, EVERY DAY, with no food or potty breaks just to opt out of my daily spam load.

    I’m sorry to dissappoint all you “just hit deleters” out there.

    but

    I really don’t have time to do that.

    Suing them obviously doesn’t help, so I’ve stopped doing that too.

    Mark, the WebGuy.

  15. Mark W. Mumma, the WebGuy said:

    Oh yeah. Forgot to mention, that’s 8,300 PER DAY, not per month….

  16. Bob Bly said:

    I am on tons of e-lists, both legitimate and spam, and I get, at most, 200 to 250 a day. It takes me about a minute or two to zip through them and delete them. I can’t imagine why on Earth you get over 8,000 a day — you are certainly atypical. If I got 8,000 a day, I’d have a problem, too.

  17. Mark W. Mumma, the WebGuy said:

    I own over 200 domains and I have catchall addresses set up on most of them.

    To respond to your statement above when you said: “I mean, how much are you really being harmed getting an e-mail you don’t want?”

    If all it I got was a few hundred, then it would be no big deal.

    Problem is, in this SEA of spam. I am missing domain renewal notices, bills for services that I need to pay and a multitude of other things. With the 4th Circuit’s ruling in my case, NOW email server name forgery is legal — so long as they have some means of contacting the advertiser in the body of the message.

    I can only expect to receive EVEN MORE as time goes on.

    It’s only a matter of time before the global email system grinds to a halt.

  18. Bob Bly said:

    Mark: It shouldn’t be legal! That’s a terrible ruling!

  19. Justin said:

    I disagree with the original post. It’s annoying as HELL to get spam, especially at work. And the only reason I get spam at work is because my e-mail address is on a web page so that our investors can e-mail questions about our company or our reporting.

    Just the simple fact that it’s annoying should be enough. Hey, if I came to your house, rang your doorbell, and ran away, you’d be annoyed. Why would you do that to someone else? Ahh, because you make money doing it. Well, find an honest job.

    And Cruise.com’s founders will lose. If you post a photo of them and state a fact, you’re not liable for lible or slander.

    The other point is that there’s no way in HELL I am trusting someone to unsubscribe me after they’ve just sent me an unsolicited e-mail. In fact, nearly half of the junk mail that I’ve “unsubscribed to” simply results in spam from them again, or another sender advertising the same product. Online marketers have no honesty, no morals, and no decency to stop when they’re asked to stop, period. Not to mention that you’re validating your e-mail address when you respond to them. Who knows who they’re selling your e-mail address to next.

    The simple fact is that e-marketers are dishonest, fraudulent in many cases, creepy, use FAKE e-mail addresses (which is ILLEGAL), use offshore servers to try and avoid US laws, etc. If it were legitimate, you wouldn’t have to go to such pains. But hey, you’re greedy crooks in the first place, right?

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  23. Justin said:

    No response, Bob? I didn’t think so. The many bad apples in your bunch have spoiled your image for everyone. Internet marketers are the new scum of the earth.

  24. Justin said:

    And Morty – Maybe the aggression is misplaced on “Bob”. However, we have no way of knowing who will sell our e-mail adress to 1000 other companies. Bob could be doing it. Bob could be doing it DESPITE saying he’s NOT doing it. The consumers never know.

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