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tudies are conducted on websites to discover how often current and potential customers visit, and make return visits, to websites. Often, those numbers are much lower than expected. One solution to gaining more return visits includes bulk email marketing. A Direct Marketing Association study found that email marketing is second only to search engine marketing (SEM) as a top method of driving traffic to websites.[1] Your email marketing tactics should target only users who have specifically opted-in to your mailing list to receive updates on new sales, discounts, and other company information. In addition, these campaigns can drastically lower the cost of developing promotional direct mailings including savings on printing, packaging, and postage. Email marketing is also known to yield a much higher response rate than traditional mailings.

Email SPAM. If you have ever heard of the term bulk marketing, then you have probably also heard the term SPAM used to describe it. SPAM is the acronym used for Specifically Persecuted Advertising Mail. The term spam was first introduced in the early 1990s to describe e-mail messages not related to the topic of discussion and postings that swamped newsgroups. SPAM is frequently described as e-mail that is sent in bulk; flooding the internet with copies of the same message and forcing these unwanted messages on to users who might otherwise have chosen not to receive them. Most SPAM is commercial advertising and has received the negative title of SPAM due to its subject matter often relating to dubious products, get-rich-quick schemes, or quasi-legal services.

The CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act was introduced in 2003 and is an acronym which stands for, Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. This law was the United States’ first attempt at a national regulation with regard to the sending of commercial email. In addition, it gives email recipients the right to opt-out of receiving unwanted messages. The CAN-SPAM Act includes tough penalties for those who are caught spamming without abiding by the rule of law. Violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.

A well-known case involving spam concerned the popular social networking site Facebook, Sanford Wallace, and two others. In February 2009, it was alleged that Sanford used phishing sites or other means to fraudulently gain access to Facebook accounts and used them to distribute phishing SPAM throughout the network. The result of this case was that Sanford was charged and was made to pay a fine of $711 million dollars. This is an example of an extreme case of spamming that had a perfectly reasonable outcome. The reality is that unsolicited SPAM has absolutely no benefits. It is unethical, has notoriously low conversion rates, and can land you in jail — or leave you owing millions of dollars in fines.

While spamming is illegal, bulk email marketing is perfectly legal. The difference is that bulk email marketing campaigns consist of an opted-in list of users who have signed up to join a mailing list because they were interested in your product or service. If you do send bulk email, be aware that, despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act does not only apply to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as any electronic mail message that has a primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service. This also includes emails that promote a commercial website and its content. The rules cover messages that are sent to current or previous customers, and include exceptions for business-to-business emails.

Your goal should be to create an easily accessible and convenient way for your website visitors to opt-in to receive promotional emails and newsletters. Market your email program as you would any other effort to encourage customer engagement. Obtain their contact information in the form of their email address in addition to their mailing address, and let the customer state their preferred method of interaction. However, it is important, in terms of a marketing strategy, to entice them to utilize email to receive timely notifications of current sales, discounts, and promotions. Remember, while the First Amendment gives you the freedom to say what it is that you want to say, it works best when you say it to people who want to hear it.

  • Guidelines for legal email communications: Don’t use false or misleading header information. Clearly state what the email is about and what users can expect. Match your headings to the message body. If the body of the message is to promote your upcoming sale, your header should read: “Save on ….” Don’t use deceptive subject lines. If you are looking to promote a 10% discount on your customized product for a particular month: the subject title should read, “Save 10% on customizing….” If the message is an advertisement, it should be clearly identified as one.
  • Emails must contain the company’s address and other contact information.
  • Provide users with a way to opt-out of receiving any further mailings.


[1] “DMA Releases 2010 Response Rate Trend Report,” Direct Marketing Association,, June 15, 2010.

Dr. Elijah Clark
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Dr. Elijah Clark (September 26, 2023). Email Spamming [Web log post]. Retrieved from
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