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Obama’s knife edge: from Messiah to spammer

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How frequently can you email someone before you become a spammer? This is a question that has plunged Barak Obamas spinners into a dive.

Obama, after all, is the King of the Email. His 2008 campaign will be long held up as the primary example of how brilliant on-line marketing can conquer the world.

But now the laurels are beginning to wilt. His team’s desperation to sell Americans his healthcare reforms, and push them through Congress, has gone too far. Now the spinners are running for shelter from accusations of relentless spamming.

This is a warning light for businesses, too. Even the mighty can slip if they don’t handle their online marketing with finesse.

As a marketing technique, email is too big to ignore: today half of all Australians admit to having made a buying decision in response to an email. But this does not mean they will put up with a bombardment.

Texas-based marketing specialists Epsilon Global have surveyed online communication the world over. They found that Australians received 180 emails a week, and we consider 85 percent of them spam.

What makes us really mad are the emails that pretend to be one thing but turn out to be fake. You know the sort – the name ‘Peter Porter’ sounds vaguely familiar and the subject line says: ‘Remember me from back at school?’ You open the email and find it’s an ad for longer sex or Russian brides. Or longer sex with Russian brides.

What’s more, the email keeps coming for weeks, each time with a different name and subject line. This has now become harassment and there is a law against it.

Without the Spam Act of 2003 we would be so inundated by spam that the internet might have been damaged. Just imagine how many emails you’d get without it. As it is, the spammers face fines of a million dollars a day. But it’s hard to catch them out the back of Vladivostok.

The service providers do a lot to filter the traffic as do our own firewalls. But somehow they seem to get through. The government has now made available a program called SpamMatters that deletes spam and reports it in one click. The trouble is that the rogues seem to change their site addresses almost daily.

As a business person, you don’t regard your message as spam – it’s vital information, right? Wrong. If it is sent out thoughtlessly, it can be regarded as spam. And remember that million dollar fine.

  • So the first rule is: make sure your list has come from a source that guarantees the target’s willingness to receive it.
  • Even with those you regard as friendly, don’t send out emails willy-nilly. Ideally, add your commercial messages to a legitimate email – customer service messages, account statements, newsletters they have agreed to receive.
  • Keep track of your performance and keep your mailing list up to date.
  • Target according to product preferences, geographical location, age of children, special interests, whatever – so don’t send ads for walking sticks to young mothers. Being email, it may not cost any more – but it alienates a potential customer.
  • Personalise the message. ‘Dear Jim’ is much more acceptable than ‘To the householder’.
  • And finally, be creative. Make it an offer they really want. Make the ad look appealing. Tailor it to your audience. In other words, get help to make it look professional and competent.

Remember, even someone like President Obama can get it wrong. His people thought that everybody would rally to their cause with the same passion as them. They were mistaken and got their foot slammed in the door.

Don’t believe that everyone else looks at your brand with the same passion as you.

Ray Beatty is a veteran ad man and regular Anthill contributor. He runs MarketingSolutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns. www.ebeatty.com

Photo: jdebner

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