Online marketers stung by spam label

Computer World –

Do some online marketers have a legitimate beef with the spam label? E-mail marketing companies, including Harris Interactive Inc. and 24/7 Media Inc.'s subsidiary Exactis.com Inc., which pride themselves on sending opt-in e-mail to subscribers, have been stung by recent charges by a nonprofit spam monitoring group that they're spammers. They have said that indiscriminate e-mail marketing hurts their industry and is ultimately ineffective, so they have no vested interest in bombarding mailboxes with new product offers.

"Online marketing is being held to a much stronger standard," said Christopher Todd, an analyst at Jupiter Research, a Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. subsidiary in New York. "Don't assume that [spam] is a problem only in the online world. It's a problem in the off-line world as well."

"Brand names wouldn't be caught dead doing spam," said Kate Leahy, a spokeswoman at New York-based Bigfoot Interactive, which does

e-mail marketing for Fortune 500 firms. While Leahy acknowledged that there can be some glitches in e-mail marketing protocols, she said, "I don't think these are things we won't overcome in the next year."

Punished for Others' Actions

Blocking e-mail marketing campaigns from companies that have minor glitches hurts the ability of marketers -- and the companies they serve -- to effectively and responsibly target customers, she said.

"There are more [unknown] spammers out there that are sending me e-mail every day," she said. And privacy groups would be well served to target smaller,

lesser-known spammers that don't maintain the same standards as better-known marketing companies, she argued.

One observer said e-mail spam is better than getting phone calls at dinnertime. "Spam is much less disruptive than unsolicited commercial phone calls," noted David Ferris, research director at Ferris Research in San Francisco.

The reason online spam gets so much attention, Todd said, is because it's so cheap. According to an April report by Jupiter, the cost of creating an e-mail campaign is $1,000, vs. $20,000 for a direct-mail campaign. In addition, e-mail campaigns are faster to develop and responses come in quicker.

Groups like Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC (MAPS) in Redwood City, Calif., say we need rules governing how e-mail is sent and privacy protections for the recipients. A MAPS spokeswoman last week said she was under a court-mandated gag order and couldn't comment for this story.

This summer, Rochester, N.Y.-based online polling company Harris Interactive was placed on MAPS's Realtime Blackhole List (RBL) for allegedly sending out unsolicited, bulk commercial e-mail, better known as spam, asking recipients to participate in its opinion polls. Internet service providers such as America Online Inc. use the RBL in deciding whether to block bulk e-mail from getting to their customers. Last week, Denver-based Exactis was placed on the RBL. On its Web site, New York-based 24/7 Media said it has "the world's largest permission-based, opt-in

e-mail database."

Both companies have won legal battles to resume their e-mail marketing for the customers who opt in, or request the e-mails, said analysts, but the notoriety of the cases casts doubt upon the effectiveness and the ability of companies to acquire and retain customers through digital marketing.

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