As a former marketing professional, I ran an agency that consulted with some very large companies. I helped my clients understand the best methods for convincing people to purchase their products and services. We used phrases like ‘demographics’, ‘target audience’ and ‘market penetration’ to define the parameters for advertising campaigns and marketing pushes. We used every tool in our marketing arsenal, which at the time included more traditional methods like print publishing, direct mail and electronic (i.e., radio and TV) advertising. eMail and the Web as effective marketing vehicles were still fairly nascent concepts at the time, and Google was barely a glint in Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s eyes.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m here to denounce some of the activities described above to discuss the evils of marketing, especially as they constitute themselves today. Indeed, if I was still in the marketing game, I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t be wrapped up in the spam activities which I so revile and which make up a large part of modern marketing activities.
What got me incensed is an article I came across recently. Entitled Eight Simple Rules to Evade the SPAM Folder, it’s not the first article of its type that I’ve come across. In fact, there are plenty of associations dedicated to helping companies market themselves online, and while many appear to be legitimate organizations, it’s still their job, like the purpose of the “Eight Simple Rules” article, to throw knuckleballs at our spam filters so they can arrive at our inboxes. The article reads like The Anarchist’s Cookbook for email marketers. Simply put, it provides tactics to circumvent the spam filter. Things like avoiding using all caps, a high number of images, or catch phrases like ‘Buy Now!’, the eight methods listed are designed to undo what we as IT people fight hard for: the right to inboxes unencumbered by unnecessary and unwanted email.
Note that it’s not my intent to vilify the author of the article, or the website that published it. Marketers need to eat too (it kept me well-fed for more than ten years). In its purest form, marketing is useful to businesses and consumers. It educates, offers benefits that may not have been there otherwise, and it stimulates good economic behavior.
But there are also inherent problems with marketing email. First, not all retailers are created equal, nor are their motives and tactics beyond reproach. There are retailers and then there are ‘retailers.’ As a marketing professional, you cannot expect to sit in a room with The Gap and an online pharmacy and treat them as if they existed on the same playing field. I’ve been quite vocal about one retailer in particular, a nasty little website called GlobalBono.com, which to this day continues to bombard me with unwanted marketing pushes in a language I don’t even speak.
Second, even the most ‘legitimate’ retailers use dubious tactics when soliciting the ‘right’ to our email addresses. I use sneer quotes because to call it a ‘right’ is a stretch. Some retailers make it a necessity at the point of purchase to ask for a phone number or email address. Some purchase email lists. The sad truth of it is that we, as email account holders, have no idea of what lists we’re on or how we got there, let alone the fact that we cannot get our addresses removed from those lists.
Third, many companies, and I’m talking about the everyday household names now, don’t have any real sense of how irritated users get when they receive unwanted solicitations. Policies about frequency and unsubscribes are spotty and haphazard.
Finally, and here’s where the marketing professional has a real responsibility to guide its clients accordingly, recent lawsuits and spam reports suggest that consumers are getting sick and tired. They want their email accounts back! Many wily users have taken to keeping multiple email accounts, some of them dummy accounts just so they can keep their regular accounts clean. I myself have eight different accounts. I shouldn’t have to, though.
Deport ‘em all
So what’s a weary Internaut to do? Well, and I say this in a tongue-and-cheek way, but perhaps deporting the badly-behaved marketers would help. Please feel free to weigh in on this. My suggestions: