DMA Spam Policy Short on Details

In a letter sent to members earlier this week, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) took a stab at outlining the group’s approach to spam, in a working strategy both critics and the DMA say is short on details.

The strategy was outlined in a letter sent to the DMA’s 4,700 members. In it, DMA President and Chief Executive Robert Wientzen stressed, “There is no silver bullet to stop spam.”

Instead of searching for such a solution, the DMA outlines a variety of broad principles for industry best practices, federal legislation, enforcement, and industry self-policing. The one-page strategy avoids most details, including a position on the definition of spam.

The working strategy reiterates the DMA’s e-mail marketing guidelines, including honest subject lines, no forged return addresses or harvesting, and a valid opt-out. It also proposes further steps, such as a universal opt-out.

In addition, the strategy proposes the creation of a “gold list” of companies that would sign an affidavit agreeing to abide by the best practices. Companies would post a $500 bond to join, along with a $100 annual fee. The Gold List would work with Internet service providers to assure Gold List members’ mail is not filtered. The strategy also echoes the DMA’s call for federal legislation that protects legitimate e-mail marketers’ rights.

“We’re attacking this thing from many fronts,” said Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs at the DMA. “I think a lot of other folks have said if we do this one unitary thing we will kill this problem of spam. We don’t believe this is the case.”

The broad-brush approach did not go over well with some e-mail marketers, who see the DMA’s approach to spam as confused.

“I could follow each of those six principles and still be a spammer,” said Michael Mayor, president and COO of NetCreations and a DMA member. “Just about every other organization I know of has come out and said we are against sending unsolicited e-mail.”

Mayor, who chairs the e-mail committee at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), said he was “intrigued” when the letter arrived with the DMA’s strategy. Though it has kernels of good ideas, he feels the principles fall far short of what is needed.

“With some of these ideas they’re on the doorstep,” Mayor said. “They’re just afraid to ring the doorbell.”

Despite its monolithic status in the direct marketing industry, the DMA is joined by a variety of organizations in the e-mail marketing world. In 1998, the DMA itself acquired one, buying the the Association of Interactive Media. Since then, the group has altered its name to the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM) and operated as an independent subsidiary of the DMA. In addition, the IAB has a committee and the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) has organized the E-mail Service Provider Coalition.

“The standards that they are articulating are largely best practices today,” said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the NAI. “Even if this is just a statement of the status quo, it’s worthwhile.”

The DMA has been criticized for belatedly recognizing the need for the marketing industry to come out squarely against unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail.

“They were slow to get to the party,” Mayor said. “They’ve got some catching up to do.”

Mastria pointed out the DMA has taken a cautious approach because it must speak to a variety of audiences: direct marketers, federal regulatory bodies, Congress, the press, and consumer groups. In doing so, he said it has little choice but to take a broad view of a devilishly complex problem.

“This isn’t, and we didn’t want it to be, a detailed prescriptive guide on how to do e-mail marketing,” Mastria said. “This is a strategic view, a 30,000-foot view, of the e-mail marketing landscape.”

Al DiGuido, chief executive of e-mail marketing company Bigfoot Interactive, agreed the DMA should concentrate on the big picture while groups such as AIM tackle the nuts and bolts of how e-mail marketers put those principles into action.

“The DMA is doing their job as far as their broad-brush approach to these tactics,” said DiGuido, whose company is both a DMA and an AIM member. “What you’ll see with the best practices coming out of AIM is much more pointed, tactical things that can be done.”

AIM plans to release its set of best practices in two weeks. Although these are expected to mostly align with the principles outlined by the DMA, Mastria emphasized the working strategy would certainly change.

“We don’t see this as a finished product,” he said.

Mayor said the strategy should change, since it sidesteps important issues such as whether opt-in or opt-out should be the set standard.

“It’s a work in progress that needs a lot of work,” he said.

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