Why I love spam
May 16, 2002, 12:00 PM PT
By Barry Dennis
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Am I crazy or what? I love spam!
In the ancient, pre-Internet days, I used to get all kinds of mail in my U.S. Postal Service mailbox. The mail had stamps on it; later on it had imprinted postmarks of one kind or another. I was in the direct-marketing and mail-order business, so I used my name and address as a quality-control measure, just to see how long the mail would take to actually arrive at my house.
As you can imagine, my name found its way to many different lists of one type or another, and I got lots of mail.
Depending on the perspective of the recipient, it was called "junk mail" or "file 13 candidates," or "recyclable materials." Individual pieces included catalogs of every type and description, magazine and book club offers, resort vacation packages and credit cards. Can you believe it? Offering me, an entrepreneur, a credit card? Had they lost their minds?
And I loved it.
My spam is important to me. In this new age of the Internet, I need the information and opportunities that e-mail marketing provides.
I loved reading the offers; I learned things and I even bought some things. They say the easiest sale is to a salesperson, and maybe that's true. But I was a tough customer. I only bought what I needed, or in some cases what I wanted, because they convinced me with good copy, attractive product art and presentation, and with offers backed by a guarantee. They convinced me I had made a great decision. They were (and still are) reaching out to satisfy my needs as their research indicated.
Now, in addition to my mail at home and at the office, I get e-mails. Lots of e-mails. And for the most part, I love them. They tell me about things I'm interested in, such as services and products that might satisfy some of my needs. They provide information referrals, ideas and food for thought.
And e-mails are smart. They don't require a postcard or envelope with postage to get more information--you just click "reply." Or in many cases, click on the "hot link" direct to the e-mailer's Web site.
Look, here's the deal.
Spam is the "junk mail" of a few years ago. There is still "junk" mail, although I prefer to think of it as marketing mail--searching for new customers and reinvigorating established clients. My spam is important to me. In this new age of the Internet, I need the information and opportunities that e-mail marketing provides. The Internet is a new marketing channel, an information research assistant, and a replacement for some of those mail-order catalogs I used to request. And man, the response time!
The courts and the Federal Trade Commission long ago thrashed out the framework for people taking their name off mailing lists by using the Direct Marketing Association-maintained "opt out" list. Mailers run their list through the DMA and matches are culled for each person from that list.
So what's the big deal about spam? I think a few well-meaning but uninformed politicians and advocacy groups have decided what's good for us.
People don't get what they don't want. But did you know that many of the people on the DMA file have requested catalogs or information by direct mail within a few months of their "opt out?"
Because we have grown used to getting information this way. If we need to, we can do the same thing using the DMA, or the Internet Advertising Bureau, or another industry trade group.
So, what's the big deal about spam? I think a few well-meaning but uninformed politicians and advocacy groups have decided what's good for us, and in their zeal, they are trying to establish a new and unwarranted benchmark for the marketing channel we call the Internet, and for one of its components: e-mail.
We really have to fight this intrusion. E-mail is no less commercial speech than other forms of communication; e-mail is a new and--in some cases--a better way of quickly identifying, qualifying and servicing customers. Large catalog marketers are pleased with the growing percentage of Internet-driven business, and they use e-mail to offer specials and other information potentially valuable to their customers, at less expense than mail-only contact programs.
Not everybody has an e-mail address or access to the Internet: Approximately 70 million U.S. households have computers, out of 120 million total, but not all of the 70 million have access to the internet or e-mail. Most businesses do have Internet and e-mail. There are some e-mails I get that I don't want or appreciate: pornography, two credit card offers every day (give me a break!), and some others. But you know what I do?
I hit delete, and I'm free. As for the rest of my spam: Keep it coming!
Barry Dennis is president of Netweb, an Internet and offline marketing and public relations agency.