The ISPs’ Stupid Rules

A while back, I worked with a company that publishes a stable of well-established retail catalog brands. At the time, they’d just launched a new catalog to coincide with a holiday.

Unbeknownst to me, they had started mailing offers from the new catalog to recipients who had opted in to mail from one or more of their other catalog brands, with entirely predictable results.

The recipients had no recollection of ever giving permission to receive mail from the new catalog; indeed, they could not possibly have even recognized the brand, as it hadn’t existed until just a few weeks prior.

The complaint rate was heading through the roof, and when their mail was halted, the publisher sent me a love note containing this little gem:

We got ourselves a badass over here.I’ve been an e-mail marketer for a long time. I was doing e-mail since before the California spam law. I can send customers a five-hundred page paper catalog in the mail, make them walk it over to the recycling bin to dump it, but I can’t send them a simple e-mail without permission. I understand the ISPs’ rules, and their rules are stupid.

Even if the ISPs’ rules truly are as arbitrary as some senders seem to think, it wouldn’t really matter. Senders who wish to avail themselves of the ISPs’ infrastructures may do so for free as long as they observe the rules, no matter how frivolous they may seem. That’s the price of admission, take it or leave it. If the rules were too onerous (or not stringent enough) recipients wouldn’t use the service anyhow.

But the fact of the matter is that the rules aren’t arbitrary. The rules are founded on the ISPs own business requirements, not the least of which is an engaged, receptive pool of eyeballs (which coincides nicely with what senders should want). Their rules also consider the general health of the e-mail ecosystem itself, which should be an item of keen interest to e-mail marketers as well.

Senders who think the ISPs’ rules are stupid probably don’t understand the rules as well as they think they do.

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