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Jan 22, 2003
How To

Why You Shouldn't Get Excited About the NAI's Email Service Provider Coalition (Yet)

SUMMARY: You may have seen the news elsewhere, where it has been breathlessly
reported. A group of email service providers are banding together
to fight the spam problem. Sounds good, but is this just a happy
press release that will lead to nothing?

MarketingSherpa's Alexis Gutzman explains the facts. If you want a
dose of reality-based cynicism, here is where to get it.
By Tech Editor Alexis Gutzman

Is "toothless" one word or two? Yesterday, nineteen email vendors (most of whose names you would recognize) announced that they
were banding together to form the Email Service Provider
Coalition under the umbrella of the Network Advertising
Initiative (NAI). This group will work together to redeem email.

The NAI is a three-year-old group, based in Maine.

Are they lobbyists? Not according to Trevor Hughes, the Executive
Director of the NAI. As he explained, "We want to inform the
legislative process. We're an educational group. We want to help
create self-regulatory standards." This is a good thing, because
you really have to be in Washington DC to lobby.

The NAI has definitely earned its stripes as a group that made a
difference in the online marketing space.

According to Hughes, "The NAI was formed at the behest of the FTC
over three years ago to respond to privacy issues associated with
online advertising. We're the self-regulatory group that normed
that industry and put it back on course. Since that time we've
been small but effective."

You can still opt out of DoubleClick cookie-based tracking from
the NAI site (

Can they really preserve email as a communications medium? Can
they do what the DMA has not (and frankly, has not tried too hard
to do)? Can they have more of an impact than AIM's Council for
Responsible Email?

The DMA has lobbyists, which NAI does not. The DMA also has a
track record of affecting legislation favorably for its
membership. On the other hand, "The DMA" is a curse word among
anti-spam activists, which includes many of the individuals who
implement email filtering technologies at ISPs and corporations.

Will the ESP Coalition Matter?

Will this help? Will the day ever come when ESPs (their term for
broadcast email vendors) can guarantee that their mail will get
through? When "false positives" (email that is requested and
wanted, but is filtered as spam) cease to be a problem? When
broadcast email vendors and ISP email admins can co-exist in
harmony? Is that even the point?

Right now, the group has three subcommittees that are meeting
weekly, according to member Anna Zornosa, President and CEO of
Topica. The vendors are talking to each other. Perhaps that is
a first step. Perhaps it is an exercise in navel-gazing.

What will this group be doing long-term to affect the ISPs and
corporations that, on an individual basis, are choosing to filter
email? Is this not like trying to catch sand that has been thrown
into the wind? I actually put that question to Hughes. His
answer, "We'll pick our battles carefully."

Even if all the vendors could come together, establish lily-white
standards for what constitutes opt-in, what permission
represents, and how lists should be managed, would the people in
the seats of power, the email administrators at ISPs and
corporations care? If Hughes had an idea of how to make them
care, he certainly was not sharing.

What (I Think) They Should Be Doing

What the ESP Coalition (is this a really bad name, or what?)
needs to be doing is to be affecting the opinions of three

(1) Consumers: Who need to understand what "false positives" are
and what the consequences are to themselves.

(2) Legislators: Who need to understand the difference between
permission email and spam, and not throw the baby out with the

(3) ISPs and corporations that make use of filters: Who probably
do not care whether the user has granted permission to the
marketer, if they believe the content is not essential for
business communication.

What will the NAI do to affect the very narrow funnel represented
by the ISPs and corporations that filter email, the very reason
that many subscribers read MarketingSherpa?

I did not hear anything resembling a plan from Hughes.

When you are trying to influence legislators, there are a finite
number of minds to change. You know who they are, you can reach
them individually. You probably understand what motivates them.
When you are trying to influence email administrators, none of the
above may be true.

In response to my concern about the scope of the problem, and the
NAI's experience in influencing this type of audience, Hughes
replied, "The core message that we have is that ESPs are
suffering as collateral damage. ESPs did not have a voice in the
legislative process, the ISP process: There's been no unified

The NAI wants to let people know, "Hey, all sorts of newsletters,
opt-in marketing, account transactions, and receipts may be
blocked by existing technology, things consumers actually want
to get."

Compelling answer? We think not. Start by changing the subject of
the sentence.

We would like to see the email admins reward ethical broadcast email
vendors by whitelisting those who respect permission, but from
what we see now, this dog will not hunt.

Who Might Matter?

Because of the size of the email filtering problem, many other
groups are already involved in trying to reduce spam, educate
bulk emailers, and influence the email administrators who control
the filters. Here is a partial list:
1. AIM's (the Association for Internet Marketing) Council for
Responsible Email
2. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA:
3. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB:
4. Habeas, Ironport, TrustedSender and others, offering
filter-avoidance systems. Look for much more on these next
5. Anti-spammers

More on them all in future issues.
See Also:

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