Vendors in the Interactive Marketing Space React Positively to New FTC CAN–SPAM Rules

Vendors from the interactive marketing space are reacting positively to the news from earlier this week that the Federal Trade Commission has approved four new rule provisions under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM).

According to the FTC, the provisions–which are intended to clarify the Act’s requirements–address four topics:

Vendors from the interactive marketing space are reacting positively to the news from earlier this week that the Federal Trade Commission has approved four new rule provisions under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM).

According to the FTC, the provisions–which are intended to clarify the Act’s requirements–address four topics:

(1) an e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender;

(2) the definition of “sender” was modified to make it easier to determine which of multiple parties advertising in a single e-mail message is responsible for complying with the Act’s opt-out requirements;

(3) a “sender” of commercial e-mail can include an accurately-registered post office box or private mailbox established under U.S. Postal Service regulations to satisfy the Act’s requirement that a commercial e-mail display a “valid physical postal address”; and

4) a definition of the term “person” was added to clarify that CAN-SPAM’s obligations are not limited to natural persons.

Quinn Jalli, Chief Privacy Officer for online marketing firm Datran Media said he believes that legitimate marketers will embrace the new regulations, as they significantly reduce the complexity of complying with the law in a joint-marketing scenario.

“The FTC’s position is well in line with the prevailing philosophy in the industry, and the new regulations align the law with common-sense expectations,” he said. “[The new regulations] are a win for marketers and consumers alike.”

In a press release, Matt Wise, CEO of Q Interactive, an interactive marketing services provider, also announced support for the FTC’s revised definition of e-mail “sender”.

“Since CAN-SPAM’s inception, there has been pervasive confusion in the marketplace over responsibility for including opt-out links in e-mail, which has led to inconsistent execution of the unsubscribe process, increased risk of unsubscribe list abuse, additional and unnecessary costs for advertisers, and an overall reduction in the efficiency of the medium,” Wise said in the release.

Q Interactive said that under the revised ruling, companies advertising with e-mail can now designate a single e-mail “sender” responsible for adhering to the rules of CAN-SPAM, which include having the “sender’s name in the e-mail “from line” and providing a working opt-out link and physical address.

The FTC’s revised “sender” definition, Wise said “eliminates the confusion and frustration over multiple opt-out links for consumers and makes it as easy as possible for them to unsubscribe from unwanted e-mails, which, in essence, is the primary purpose of the CAN-SPAM Act.”

Opening Up a Dialogue About Spam

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

As a result, online marketing services provider Q Interactive and marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa conducted a survey to look into consumers’ definition of spam. What did they find? For starters, that there is a big disconnect between what consumers see as spam and what is considered to be spam by the interactive community.

According to the two firms’ “Spam Complainers Survey,” the definition of spam has changed from the permission-based regulatory definition of “unsolicited commercial e-mail” to a perception-based definition centered on consumer dissatisfaction.

In fact, according to the survey, more than half of the participants–56 percent–consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is “just not interesting to me”. In addition, 50 percent of respondents consider “too frequent e-mails from companies I know” to be spam and 31 percent cite “e-mails that were once useful but aren’t relevant anymore”. (Respondents could select more than one answer for multiple questions in the survey.)

When it comes to using the “report spam” button—the primary tool Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide consumers to counter the problem—nearly half of respondents (48 percent) provided a reason other than “did not sign up for e-mail” for why they reported an e-mail as spam. In fact, underscoring consumers’ varying definitions of spam, respondents cited a variety of non-permission-based reasons for hitting the spam button, including “the e-mail was not of interest to me” (41 percent); “I receive too much e-mail from the sender” (25 percent); and “I receive too much e-mail from all senders” (20 percent).

The surey also found that there is a pervasive confusion among consumers regarding what they believe will happen as a result of clicking the “report spam” button. Over half of respondents, 56 percent, for example, reported it will “filter all e-mail from that sender” while 21 percent believe it will notify the sender that the recipient did not find that specific e-mail useful so the sender will “do a better job of mailing me” in the future. Even more indicative of the lack of understanding, 47 percent believe they will be unsubscribed from the list by clicking “report spam” while 53 percent do not believe the button it is a method to unsubscribe.

Not surprisingly, accompanying this confusion is the frequent misuse of the “report spam” button. The survey found a large number of consumers, 43 percent, forgo advertiser-supplied unsubscribe links in email and simply use the ISP’s “report spam” button to unsubscribe from an advertiser’s list—regardless of whether or not the email fits the consumer’s definition of spam. Moreover, a full one in five consumers (21 percent) use the “report spam” button to unsubscribe from e-mail they specifically do not consider spam.

To address this problem, Q Interactive has called for ISPs, marketers, advertisers and publishers to come together with industry associations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau to agree on a solution that is beneficial to consumers and all interested parties. To begin the dialogue, Q Interactive suggests two points for discussion:

* Replace the broken “report spam” button with buttons that more clearly indicate consumers’ intentions such as an “unsubscribe” button and an “undesired” button.

* ISPs should categorize e-mail senders based on their practices to identify and reward senders who follow best practices in transparency and permission.

For the good of our industry, we should all pay heed.