A giant step (backward)

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article by Stacy Forster about marketers trying to “polish spam’s rusty image.”

I’m just astonished by the naivete of the article, and scared that it will send the wrong message to honest marketers.

She writes, “legitimate businesses that look to e-mail as an effective marketing tool…” without realizing that NO legitimate business uses spam as a tool for long. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling diamond mines, weight loss tools, penis surgery or refrigerator dehumidifiers–spam is going to take your brand down.

How? By creating brand rage (not brand equity) in the 99.9% of the people who don’t respond. For every order you manage to coerce out of someone, you’re burning your brand with 100 others.

The article is filled with bad analysis and shady anecdotes from everyone except Jason Catlett of Junkbusters who understands that spam is like shoplifting.

Like shoplifting? Yep. If you steal a $20 item from Macy’s, it’s not going to bankrupt them. But if 1,000 or 10,000 people did that every day, it would bring the store to its knees. One or two or even ten pieces of spam a day don’t ruin someone’s email account.. but 1,000 will. If spam’s image gets polished, and it is virtually free, why shouldn’t we expect that will happen? We need to do everything we can to keep spam’s image not just rusty, but toxic.

Consumers see spam as a sign of disrespect and dishonesty. It’s not about privacy–it’s about taking something from me (my attention, my time) without costing your company a cent.

If you are a marketer, just stop. If you’re a consumer and you get spam from a “legitimate” company, call them up and let them know how angry you are.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again–if you have to start weaseling your way through the fine print of the privacy policy, or justifying your spam in any way, you’re jeopardizing your brand and your business. You can do better.