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.