Email Marketing CAN SPAM Considerations

Bought, Borrowed or Stolen

Asking the right questions about email lists we don’t own.

Every couple of months I am given the opportunity to speak to audiences large and small about email marketing. I typically provide recent data and trends, suggest proven strategies and tactics, and offer up suggestions on tools and processes for aspiring and seasoned email marketers.1

Without fail, I am always asked a question like this one:

“So, I have this list. It includes contact records for people that didn’t exactly ask to receive anything from us. Can I send messages to them?”

The standard answer I give sounds like this:

“I’m not an attorney, but… I can tell you that every message you send must include your physical mailing address, a clearly marked unsubscribe option, and the subject line cannot deceive or promise something the actual message does not contain.” 2

In truth, this question, while completely fair, irks me a little. No offense to anyone who has ever asked the “can I send this?” question, but what they are really asking is more like “can I get away with this?”

Some better questions might be:

Will sending to this list produce a positive result?
Is email the best channel to introduce my brand to an unknown (and unexpecting) audience?
Is there a possibility of negative consequences from sending commercial messages to a group of people who did not provide permission to do so?

The answers: Not likely. Probably not. Yes.

In the words of my late grandmother, “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.” Regardless of what CAN-SPAM law dictates, consider how you feel when you receive some rogue commercial message out of the blue.

Email marketing is more about responsibility and obligation than it is about right and privilege. As a representatives of our brands and (hopefully) as stewards of the industry, we must realize that our audiences are limited to those who willingly allow us into their inboxes.

To those who have never considered this last statement as fact, please stop showing up unannounced. You are making the rest of us look bad.3

Email Marketing CAN SPAM Considerations

Yes, email marketing is consistently rated as the most effective medium in the digital marketing arena. According to recent data, email marketing produces a 38:1 return. And that’s no accident. Email marketing is truly effective when we view our recipients as people, not a hollow collection of @ symbols, letters, and dots.

Invest in relationships, not rented names.

If you agree, please share this with others.


1 – Here is a video of an email marketing presentation and related slides. I try my darndest to provide actionable insights with a layer of light-hearted humor.
2 – This answer only applies to domestic recipients. International SPAM laws and email regulations are a bit different. See this article and this graphic for a full run-down.
3 – And by the way, there are less intrusive means of marketing to people for whom you have an email address. Check these advertising options for email marketers.

2 thoughts on “Bought, Borrowed or Stolen

  1. This reminds me of a situation sort of related. Back when I worked for a media company, I used to fight with them constantly to not make opting into the newsletter default when entering contests. Occasionally I would lose that fight. Open rates would go down. Spam complaints would go up. Duh. Forcing people to take your email newsletter when all they want to do is enter a contest does not end well. Just don’t.

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