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When Does E-mail Become Spam?

When speaking to marketers and their agencies I often hear different interpretations of what constitutes spam. There is the “textbook definition”:, the legal definition as covered in the “US CAN-SPAM laws”: and “other interpretations”: Often a person’s own definition of spam relates to how they are using e-mail and if they are a sender or recipient of marketing e-mail.
For me, and for most recipients, spam is any unwanted or irrelevant messages, even if I’ve signed up.
Marketers (senders) can always justify (at least to themselves) why their products or services, and therefore their marketing e-mail, are relevant and even wanted. However, they have a narrow opinion of what is spam. Most marketers that have compiled large permission lists take the high road and follow legal and “best practices” definitions. Those that don’t have large lists or want to get their messages out quickly will often “bend” these definitions to suit their actions. I know of Fortune 500 companies that “technically” send spam based on how they originally acquired e-mail addresses.

In “Did I Give You Permission To Spam Me?”: David Baker of “”:, makes a good point. Can anyone that has worked hard, and spent money, on building a brand send e-mail that could be perceived as spam? As he states: “Your brand image could be at stake. Where do you draw the line?”
In “One-to-One Spam?”: Bill McCloskey of “Email Data Source Inc.”:, counters Mr. Baker’s reasoning and says, “unsolicited one-to-one communication between businesses has been going on since the caveman strolled over to the secretary in the cave next door, trying to sell his neighbour stationery.”
In Canada there is no issue approaching someone by one-off e-mail as we don’t have a specific spam law (but as I stated in my “2006 predictions post”:, I believe Canada will enact legislation this year which will be similar to the US CAN-SPAM laws). Even if it isn’t against the law, is it good for your company?
At the end of the day the definition of spam is in the eyes and perception of the recipient. Personally I will send an e-mail to a single person if I come across their e-mail address and want to make contact for business purposes. It’s easy for me to make contact and it is an easy way for the recipient to deal with it on their own time and either agree to further contact or give me the kiss-off. Furthermore, it is much quicker and simpler than the recipient having to deal with voice mail, having to pick up the phone, dial my number and let me know their thoughts (“yes, let’s discuss this” or “kiss off”).
And in case you are wondering, I don’t mind if someone sends a relevant e-mail, even if it is unsolicited. What bothers me is that I don’t need any meds for ED (at least not yet); I am not looking for quick, “sure bet” stock tips; and I don’t want to buy a replica watch just because Tom Cruise wears the original.
What do you think? Should a true person-to-person business e-mail be considered spam if the sender doesn’t have permission from the recipient? We’re not talking about adding someone to an e-mail newsletter distribution list. Just sending a single e-mail to let someone know you are there and believe you have relevant information for them.
Post your responses and thoughts in the comments section below or “contact me”:

One Comment

  1. Chris
    Chris February 13, 2006

    Well here is what the folks at Feedburner think.

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