A member of my team has just conducted a seminar at the local University for Marketing Students. Interestingly, one of the major discussion points was “who is to blame for spam?”

Opinions were divided. Some laid the blame on marketers for adopting ‘spray and pray’, one-size-fits-all tactics and others singled out sectors that heavily rely on email. 

What was interesting was the ease with which the students labelled legitimate companies as ‘spammers’. This willingness to describe some of the most prestigious UK companies in such a derogatory way was surprising. High street brands were openly being tarred for their apparent abuse of the email medium - the negative brand perceptions this created was clear.   

This speed to label companies as spammers got me thinking about why this is. My opinion is that ISPs, marketers and consumers have all been key influencing factors....   

  • ISPs

By giving consumers buttons to ‘mark this email as spam’, ISPs are making it easy to describe any email that a recipient decides they don’t want (any more) as spam.  Although they have the best intentions, this should be the job of an unsubscribe button and having a 'mark as spam' option confuses the matter.

At Adestra, we get numerous people asking how clients got their data and then, when presenting the full data history through our auditing tools, 9 times out of 10, people confess to forgetting that they’d signed up!

  • Marketers

‘Spray and pray’ untargeted email marketing broadcasts to sloppy selections at infrequent intervals will give your recipients a licence to classify your messages as spam.

  • Consumers

In a recent ‘Consumer attitudes to disclosing personal data for direct marketing’ study, 54% of consumers admitted to filling in false information online.  This means traditional demographic profiling based on data capture will always be compromised. Well-meaning email marketers using relevant message designs will in fact be pushing irrelevant messages to contacts despite the best intentions.

Fifty six percent of people believing they receive too many email promotions (Forrester). They are fighting back by lying online, having more than one email address to help filter marketing and implementing their own spam filtering tools. 

This ‘slipperiness’ means keeping your marketing relevant is even harder. This leads to a vicious circle. 

So what can UK email marketers do about this? There are some simple steps which will arrest this worrying trend:

  • Design: Make sure unsubscribe links are clear in your copy.
  • Data: Suppress unsubscribe requests immediately and respect references.  Ensure you have an audit trail to ensure data compliance.
  • Segmentation: Look beyond traditional demographic selections into behavioural targeting using prompts from what your contacts do to inform follow up communications. If you do use demographic data, clean it regularly.
  • Direct Marketing Principles: Right message to the right people at the right time. Irrelevant is irresponsible. Testing and measurement is key.
  • Monitor: Monitor your unsubscribe rates and ‘mark as spam’ requests.  Most reputable ESPs have a relationship with ISPs to include this information in their reporting.
  • Dialogue: Keeping in regular contact with your recipients is essential to prevent people forgetting!

Above all, all UK email marketing managers have a duty to preventing spam having a detrimental impact on the proven effectiveness of email marketing. 

Henry Hyder-Smith is the managing director of Adestra.

Henry Hyder-Smith

Published 18 December, 2006 by Henry Hyder-Smith

Henry Hyder-Smith is CEO at Adestra and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

26 more posts from this author

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Comments (3)


Alan Brown, ...

Regarding "opt out" comment.

It is a violation of the Advertising Standards Authority code of practice to send email or SMS marketing messages without explicit written permission of the recipient.

There is currently a push to make this a full legal requirement, although Trading Standards already take and investigate complaints about such messages.

Permission to market via email cannot be sold to 3rd parties and it is _extremely_ unsafe to treat a request to add any email addresses given in any format without confirming them and getting an explicit positive response.

Don't get suckered into agreeing to opt-out marketing campaigns. They are a fast way of gaining long-term alienation of almost all of your potential market for the gain of a few short-term sales - they may also leave you exposed to legal action and will leave you quite rightly labelled as a spammer - something which may result in difficulty retaining your internet connectivity and web pages.

over 11 years ago


Nigel Williams, MD at Emailcenter UK

Some fair comments Henry. However don't you think the Internet community as a whole could in fact do more, particulary the likes of Google. Here is an ad on Adwords when searching for 'Email Database'

"750 million email list Send high quality emails $15.95"

I think we all know how they would have collected this list. You would think the likes of Google would outlaw this advert and blacklist them from searches as at the end of the day this is illegal.

Of course its not just Google but what about hosting companies and data centers that seem to turn a blind eye to some of these spammers? We have also seen just in our own internal email spam originating from networks which maintain high profile blacklists - you would think that they would get their own house in order as well.

I am sure if more attention was put on the source it would reduce spam considerably.

Sean Duffy

over 11 years ago


Nancy Billens, UK Online Market

Henry and Alan..
One disturbing trend is that the option of unsubscribing is given grudgingly in smallest of fonts and AT THE END of the mail ...though I know, exceptions are there. It is a double edged sword. As a team member of a portal which frequently uses email as a means to connect to both prospects and past customers, I know that given the choice, consumers really do not want any silly 'new' information we send them. But this means a communication breakdown between both the parties. So, marketers prefer hiding the unsubscribe link in the email just to fulfill compliance norms and not lose a potential prospect data off their lists. At www.ukonlinemarket.co.uk, we have to take care not to fall in the trap, as Alan mentioned and provide customers with the choice they demand. I only wish there was a way to establish a more personal, laser-targetted and honest relationship with prospects.

I agree with Sean vehementaly. Selling data, even though illegal is BIG business. And the major players just ignore it all. When smaler fries like us use in-house data from past customers, that too with their permissions, why don't even bigger respectable businesses do that as well. Easier said tha done, I know. But privacy and data-protetction are big and valid issues. And at the end of the day, we too are consumers for many businesses. Do not do unto others what you dont want to be done to you...

over 11 years ago

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