It occurred to me recently that we do not give spammers (and in their turn ISPs) enough credit for helping to make email a long-term, credible media.

How so?

Well frankly, the threat of being blocked by ISPs for sending out hundreds or thousands of the same copy and creative is prodding marketers into action.

There is nothing like a fall in revenues to provoke a reaction, and ultimately that is what being blocked by spam filters equates to.

Email is cheap and getting cheaper. In fact, in the grand scheme of things the cost of delivering email is negligible.

This is a great paradox, because email is not only a two-way customer communication channel and potentially one of the most flexible, it is also among the cheapest.

And this is, of course, its Achilles Heel. Its inexpensiveness has led it to be abused by marketers that send the same message to their whole customer base, just because they can. Sad.

However, saviour comes in a strange guise. In the war against spam, the ISPs and many others initially branded all bulkmailing as ‘spam’. 

Three or four years ago I was myself against this and saw it, in its own way, as an anachronism in the new age of the commercial internet.

But I have changed my mind completely, come full circle in my thinking and performed a total volte-face!

Block all bulk email, I say! I am now of the opinion that spam is the single most useful weapon we have that will drive marketers to keep emails relevant, the interests of the customer at heart and the media alive.

ISPs are now employing reputation strategies to weed spam from legitimate mail, and to ensure that emails are delivered, organisations must follow some of the more basic rules of direct marketing.

Indeed, this demands of marketers that they email responsibly.

For instance, mailing a single creative to 1m customers will lead to a very high chance of getting blocked, because funnily enough, that is what the spammers do!

Furthermore, how relevant can you be if you send 1m customers the same email, offer, creative et al? One could easily argue ‘not at all’.

And if you are not being relevant, you will annoy customers, which could lead to complaints.

Remember, ‘spam’ is now defined as irrelevant email, so to avoid this very obvious trap, segmentation MUST be applied.

But as argued elsewhere on this blog, by Mat Finch in particular, targeting and segmentation do not have to be complicated.

Sadly, there are still organisations that think: “Isn’t email cheap!… Then it doesn’t matter about conversion rates, just send more”.

But these days are, thankfully, drawing to a close, and in an odd way I think we have spammers and ISPs to thank for this.


Matthew Kelleher is commercial director at



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