Email marketing gone wrong

Two companies getting it wrong: Web traffic provider MGID and website builder Wix. I had no prior dealings with either until during the course of the year nine different representatives from Wix chose to send me unsolicited emails, and 10 representatives from MGID.

Image copyright Elvis Kennedy

For me, a couple back-to-back messages from the same company won’t affect its reputation, but there’s a line between persistence and annoyance, especially when the “messages received” count reaches the twenties and thirties.

Austrian artist Manfred Kielnhofer is another taking it too far. I’ve received 20 of his emails during the past few months. Removal requests count for nothing. He could be a hugely talented bloke, but for all the spam he sends he might as well be touting Viagra.

It should be mandatory for all mailshots to have an unsubscribe link at the bottom. I don’t mean a sentence that reads, “To unsubscribe reply with ‘remove’ in the subject field” or a link that creates a new, blank email. Some companies don’t have a problem with impersonal emails. I do.

Too much to ask, though.

Definition of spam: disruptive messages, especially commercial messages posted on a computer network or sent as e-mail.

Here’s a quote from the USA’s CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

“Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations. For example, both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that originated the message may be legally responsible.”

Most spammers pay no attention, and the onus seems to be on the recipient to opt-out, but it has been criminally enforced, both inside and outside the United States.

Two of the main perpetrators of spam in my inbox are Cision and PR Newswire. I’ll ask companies who send press releases where they got my address, and these mailing list suppliers are often mentioned. A couple of years ago Beth Blanchard of Cision told me my details were removed after my request (I never opted-in, of course), but some bright spark has re-added me.

Email marketing 101: Don’t spam.

Update: 21 March 2012
A got an email from Cision’s UK office. My blogs were listed on their media database, and I was asked if I wanted my details removed. So that’s at least something.

If in doubt about what you’re sending to others, here’s an email checklist.

Update: 02 April 2012
Another email from MGID. For all the browsing of my site they say they do, they obviously haven’t seen this post.

Update: 2014
MGID still at it.


20 responses

  1. We have had similar things – go onto a website, ask a question and then BANG – they e-mail you once a month (automated) with tips, hints, newsletters etc. E-marketing has it’s good points and bad points.

    You can always suss an automated e-mail though (rather than a bespoke one), which annoys me (especially automated Christmas e-mails) as they are meant to be personal, yet are automated. Grrr.

  2. My agency has a problem where an address spider merged our contact with another contact from a website. This address was spread in a very short time on a lot of online business catalogues and was sold to email marketeers. Now we get job & product offers as spam mails and faxes for a complete different business.

  3. I had this really weird conversation with a client last week about email marketing. Their position was that, because they receive so much Unsolicited Commercial Email, they didn’t want to allow potential customers to sign up to be contacted by email at all, because they didn’t want to be the type of company that inundated their customers with useless SPAM/UCE, as they feel that would damage their brand.

    I agreed. It would. However, the answer is not, I told them, to prevent potential clients from opting in to passive contact with your company. The answer is to not be a dick about it.

    Mark O’Brien touches on it in his book, “A Website That Works” (with which I am in no way affiliated) when he talks about setting users expectations when they sign up. Put “Sign up for our Monthly Newsletter,” or “Sign up to get Weekly offers,” in the language of the signup, and then stick to that. If you want to increase frequency, ask.

    Why is that so hard?

  4. The worst act of emailing I can recall is by Ticketmaster. I bought two tickets to see Arctic Monkeys in Sheffield last year from the site, which then proceeded to bombard me daily with different emails. I must have forgotten to tick the opt-out button so I brought it on myself but little did I know that I’d signed myself up for the Arctic Monkeys mailing list, the UK bands mailing lists, the Indie mailing list, the Sheffield venues mailing list… I was hooked up to any mailing list related to Sheffield and music.

    I was staggered at the amount of unticking I had to do. Does email marketing like that really work? There’s enough research to say it does, but I just see it as needless baggage that comes with buying something online or having the nerve to display your email address on your website. Needless to say I’ll be using Ticketmaster again.

  5. I keep getting emails from a marketing jobs company that have an ‘unsubscribe’ button that always leads to an error. Handy. To make things worse they ignore any messages posted to their twitter account or Facebook wall. It’s infuriating!

  6. I have a strong opinion that if you are ever going to collect someone’s email address you need to be very clear about it, about what you are going to do with it, and how to remove said email address for any lists. And removing the email address from mailing lists should be very easy (and if it’s not, mark those emails as spam, if you are with Yahoo or Gmail or similar, it’ll affect others as well).

    I’ve half written a rant on the topic of collecting emails for forms like this even. WordPress makes it so easy to require an email address, yet does not make it easy to know why! (The only use that I know of for “requiring” an email address is for filtering purposes. If the website knows the email address, automatically display the comment. Otherwise hold for moderation. This is flawed because anyone who goes to my website can find my email address… A better option would be to allow a custom “password” (or tripcode), which could even be displayed hashed so that people know the Michael here, is different from that other Michael.)

    As for companies that require my email address when I purchase something. I tend to give them a “throw away” one. I have a domain used only for that purpose, and so I generate a new email address for every company. (Perhaps of the form “” if I want it to be obvious, or maybe “” or “” if I want it less obvious.) Then if I get spam and they don’t stop sending it, I blackhole them and it goes straight to /dev/null. The only problem with this approach is that my darn email client (Evolution) doesn’t fill in the from field when replying to emails. So if I’m not careful, I might end up giving the company my real email anyway…

  7. I don’t mind junk emails so long as they are not pornographic or otherwise in appropriate. Other than that I just see it as all other types of junk mail – people just trying to make a buck and if I don’t like it I just bin it. No big deal…

  8. like michael I have 3 emails one for clients, one for stuff Im really interested in ( important blogs like this one. :D) and one for potential spam. When I start seeing spam show up in the spam inbox I report it as spam and it is blocked even from my spam email! if i see interesting stuff in the spam inbox I contact the company with a change of address and give them the second address. but the one reserved for clients remains exclusively for clients and as long as we are doing business I tolerate spam from them which is also flagged as spam and gets deleated before it lands in my inbox. The solution seems to be to out think the spammers and and let their worthless communication land in cyber nowhereville. Doesn’t bother me and doesn’t profit them.

  9. Well said, Jon.

    Abbas, I’ve been viewing a few houses for sale, and one of the estate agents asked if I’d like to receive email updates showing the specific kind of available house I was looking for. I gave my details, but forgot to ask how often I’d receive their messages. Three separate emails that day. No option to unsubscribe either. Smashing.

    Michael, I’ll sometimes use the ‘mark as spam’ option in Gmail, but mostly I’ll send the email to a ‘blog spam’ folder so I can see how many are sent from the same person or company. If I notice a few from one address I’ll reply with a removal request.

    I’ve not had anyone use my address when posting comments to avoid the moderation queue. You’ve given the game away. :)

    Meredith, I don’t suppose you use Gmail? I’d like to know how I can get spam deleted before it reaches my ‘spam’ folder, because from time to time I’ll check in there for false positives, but it’s not easy due to the volume.

    Cision UK emailed me earlier, asking if I’d like my details removed. Again. Yes please.

  10. The fight against spam is quite ridiculous. I reroute all my email accounts through two separate Gmail accounts (personal and business). Gmail’s spam filters alone make using Gmail a major time saver. But if messages do continue to get through the spam filters you can create a custom filter for all those spammers that don’t stop sending you email. All you do is simply filter all their emails into your trash and/or spam folder. Bam, problem solved. Currently I have well over 200 custom filters set up.

  11. I receive a fair amount of SPAM in my backup and personal email addys but not at my current primary email (knocks on wood). I just check my backups every now and then to dump garbage emails so it’s not a big deal. However, I try to attend networking events regularly and something that really annoys me is when people automatically add me to their mailing list. I don’t mind signing up and supporting other entrepreneurs but I’d like to have a say in the matter without someone else deciding for me.

  12. I should look into those Gmail filters, Jordan. Not tried it yet.

    Natasha, another one that gets to me is when you leave a comment on a blog and your email is automatically added to the owner’s mailing list. Particularly when there’s no ‘opt out’ link within the emails you receive and you need to manually ask for removal, which I find can be awkward if the person is a commentator on my blog.

  13. Hi David.

    I think its incredibly interesting that you’re talking about spam especially from a marketing/pr context.

    At WMLM we dont specialize in PR but we do have some experience in this area. Especially of late we’ve been considering diversifying into pr. As a reader, and somone who’s been talking to cision about purchasing their (very expensive) service for our PR needs it would be of interest to me to know why you aren’t interested in receiving notices from Cision.

    I see it from this perspective: Your web property and publications have become a trusted source for designers and rising influences to learn about industry trends and existing work of other designers. you’ve become more than just a “designer” who happens to publish books occasionally, but a consigliare of design and branding. That means that people are going to want for you to see, talk about, and publish their work in your publications especially LDL and ID. The people who reach out to you using Cision are probably going about it the wrong way, but Cision would be an incredible resource for you to connect with people and the new work being done in the industry.

    I know that Cision works to make media contacts comfortable with the way they’re contacted, so perhaps talk to them about that.

    I feel like it would be a missed opportunity for you to just cut Cision out of your reach.

    spam is awful, but i wouldn’t say that Cision’s media communications meet that bar.

  14. Hi Alex, I’ve been receiving unwanted press releases for years, but it wasn’t until 2009 when a couple of the senders informed me they got my details through a Cision mailing list. So I contacted Cision to request removal, because I never signed-up. I didn’t receive a reply, but kept receiving more unwanted (and mostly irrelevant) emails from a wide range of businesses using Cision’s database.

    In 2010 I again contacted Cision to ask for removal. This time I was informed that my details would be taken off their system. But months later and I was still receiving emails from various companies who, when asked, informed me it was through Cision.

    The same thing has been happening until I published this blog post, when someone from the firm emailed to ask if I wanted my information deleted. Of course I said yes, but I’ll not hold my breath.

    Their service would be improved (and more relevant) if every email sent using their database of addresses contained a removal link in the footer. Not just removal from the list of the company paying for the rights, but removal from Cision. Because the service isn’t working. People will pay for their service, but who knows how many other email recipients simply “auto-delete” the messages?

  15. Have companies been fined for spamming? Obviously, at $16k per offense as you mention, the penalty could grow very quickly. I was just curious if anyone is actually cracking down on this.

  16. Email spam is one of my pet hates. I’ve had a few companies that kept sending me emails every week or so, even after I tried to unsubscribe multiple times.

    I have to say that once I responded with angry-type emails, they did infact unsubscribe me. But users shouldn’t have to do this in order for companies to adhere to privacy guidelines.

    – Stuart

  17. Thanks for posting this David.

    I just received an email from these BSers. I realized all the PR spam I’ve been getting over the past few months must be because I was listed in their “media database” without my knowledge. I wrote an article about it and requested removal immediately.

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