Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Jun 05, 2003
How To

Special Report: How Rising Junk Mail Rate Affects Legit Mailers: 36 Brands Accused of Spamming

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
by consumers

-> 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
call "great."

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
broker's assurances.

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
looking bad.

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
market today:

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, 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
legitimate list.

He explains, "Legitimate mailers should never hit our decoy
accounts, we know when mail comes in that the decoy never
requested it."

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 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,

USB Pros
World Book Centre
Omaha Steaks
Kennedy-Webster University
Dr Scholls
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:

American Greetings
Newsletters from
Marshall Fields
Bank of America
Crate and Barrel
Delta Airlines

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

See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.