Jun 05, 2003
SUMMARY: What do Amazon, Dupont, Marriott, Crate & Barrel and Bank of America have in common? In the last 24 hours each has been accused of being a suspected spammer by consumers. Ouch.
In part I of our Special Report on how the rising junk mail rate affects legitimate emailers, you will learn:
a. How most junk lists are created
b. How to spot if you have rented a junk list: Quick solution
c. 14 legitimate brands hurt by junk lists
d. 22 permission mailers mistakenly reported as junk mailers by consumers...
46% of all email sent worldwide is now reportedly unwanted junk.
An additional amount (that is higher than you think) is mail that
recipients think is junk.
We put together this quick report for broadcast emailers to help
you understand how the influx affects you, and what steps you
can take today to help yourself:
a. Why some list rentals can equal trouble
b. How most junk lists are created
c. How to spot if you have rented a junk list: Quick solution
d. 14 legitimate brands hurt by junk lists
e. 22 permission mailers mistakenly reported as junk mailers
-> a. Why some list rentals can equal trouble
When a list broker promises you, "This is a permission-based
list", how do you know he or she is really telling the truth?
The whole list rental arena is so confusing these days that
although your broker may be honest, he or she may be easily
mistaken. Hundreds of lists are represented by their owners as
pure as the driven snow, when they are not.
These misrepresentations are killing the list rental industry.
For example, a recent survey by our sister-publication
B2BMarketingBiz revealed that 56% of marketers testing rented
lists has "disappointing results" and only 8% had results they would
Much of this disappointment was due to renting the wrong
lists: Non-permission lists.
For business-to-business marketers who only want names in tight
niches, the answer is fairly easy. Demand to see the actual form
that the names were gathered using, so you are sure permission
was requested and given.
However, if you are a mass marketer, picking the right lists is
hugely difficult because you often need to buy so very many of
them to make up your counts that checking where each name came
from is time prohibitive.
In that case, many marketers and agencies simply rely on their
Or, if you are a marketer relying on CPA or affiliate deals to
spread the word about your offer, your campaign is at the mercy
of the judgment of the various third parties who decide to run
it. If any of them pick the wrong list, your brand winds up
To find a solution, first you have to know how bad lists are
created in the first place.
-> b. How most junk lists are created
Two tactics are responsible for most of the bad lists on the
o Harvesting from sites & site visitors
A list gatherer uses software to suck email addresses from Web
sites (including message boards on community sites, and email
discussion group archives); or from Web site visitor's computers
when they go to a site. In these cases, none of the names are
ever asked to give their address, let alone permission.
o Dictionary attack
Know the old adage about how 1000 monkeys typing randomly could
come up with Shakespeare someday? That is basically how dictionary
attacks work. A mailer picks an ISP such as aol.com, and uses
automated software to sending mail to made-up names (ann1@,
ann2@, ann3@). Some of these names end up belonging to real
people, so that mail gets through, and they add you to their
-> c. How to spot if you have rented a bad list: Quick solution
No one knows more about how many bad lists are out there than
Enrique Salem, President & CEO of Brightmail.
His company's software and services help ISPs and corporations
filter 10% of the world's email (that is more than 60 billion
messages per month) to stop junk from getting to users.
The critical difference between Brightmail and other filter
systems is that it does not look at the content of a message to
see if it is spam.
This should make every permission broadcast mailer in the world
rejoice, because content-based filter systems such as
SpamAssassin, sometimes mistakenly stop permission mail (aka
"false positives"). If your message contains too many words the
content filter thinks are words a bad mailer would use, that is
it, your mail may be stopped. No matter who you are.
Content-based filtering equals false positives. False positives
hurt all permission-based emailers. (In fact according to our
research at minimum, 4% of good mail is filtered by mistake, and
that number could be much higher.)
To avoid filtering wanted messages, Brightmail set up a network
of more than one million decoy email addresses across the
They planted decoy names on every ISP, no-cost email service,
community message boards, and many corporate email systems. None
of the names are accounts that are used to send mail, none of
them belong to a person.
Instead, the decoys sit there waiting to be harvested or
dictionary-attacked by bad emailer's software. And then when the
bad mailer rents the list out, the decoys collect the resulting
The results for anyone renting lists are fascinating because as
Salem told us, many times the mailings coming through are
obviously from marketers who thought they were renting a
He explains, "Legitimate mailers should never hit our decoy
accounts, we know when mail comes in that the decoy never
As a public service, Salem's team have set up an email address
that mailers can use to see if the list they rented was
misrepresented as permission.
After your campaign goes out, send a copy of it to
firstname.lastname@example.org and the Brightmail team will let you
know if any of their decoys received it.
Our suggestion: Consider adding a Brightmail clause to your
list rental contracts. If a rental results in email hitting a
Brightmail decoy, then you should *not* pay for the list because
it was misrepresented as a permission file.
-> d. 14 legitimate brands hurt by junk lists
After learning about Brightmail's decoy system, we were inspired
to do a little investigation on our own.
We happen to have an email address that is posted on our site
where any harvester can scrape it, that is not used by any human
being here at MarketingSherpa.
This morning at 9 A.M. ET, we opened that account and looked over
the 54 messages it received in the past 12 hours. 100% of them
were unrequested bulk messages.
Among the typical junky offers one might expect, were 14 messages
from mailers representing (or perhaps spoofing) legitimate brands
who probably have thought they were using a permission list,
World Book Centre
Red Jacket Tobacco
National Home Gardening Club
-> e. 22 permission mailers mistakenly reported as junk
mailers by consumers
The other problem broadcast mailers worry about these days is
being reported as a bad mailer when you are not. One single
unhappy email recipient can kick up a stink that may result in
your being blacklisted at the corporate or ISP-level.
As Salem says, "The definition of spam in most people's minds is
'mail I don't want.'"
Even though they volunteered to join your list at one time, now
they want off. Instead of telling you about it, they
complain to their corporate IT department, or their ISP or AOL, etc.
If they are Brightmail customers, they often complain to
Brightmail asking, "Hey, why didn't you filter this stuff?"
The horrible truth is, many of the complaints Brightmail gets
from customers are about permission email. Brightmail ends up
defending the honor of an awful lot of mailers.
Salem gave us a quick list of a few permission-mailers who have
been wrongly accused of spamming in the past 24 hours:
Newsletters from Microsoft.com
Bank of America
Crate and Barrel
In each case, Salem's team examined the message the customer was
complaining about, checked whether their system of decoys had
gotten it, and reported back that the mailer was legitimate.
Which mailer gets mistakenly reported the most often? Amazon.
BTW: The email address to report suspected non-permission mail to