How not to do permission marketing, or: this we call spam

Somehow, despite all the great examples of social media marketing out there, there are still many companies that have heard of it, and then go about it absolutely the wrong way. In this How-not-to case study a nice example of misunderstood permission marketing.

You know all these website that ask you to register and where you have to leave your email address, right? Well, there’s always a checkbox on these site where you can indicate whether or not you’re open to receive offers from the company in question, or their partners. This is where you give them permission to send you emails. In other versions, there’s a message about this hidden in the terms of service, but that is already a bit old school. So, permission marketing is about customers giving companies permission to send them offers and advertising by email.

What permission marketing is not, is that you get a customers email address from a third party and see that as permission to send advertising to that customer. In many countries, there’s even legislation that prohibits both: distributing the email addresses and sending unsolicited emails.

Let’s say you receive an email with the following messages:

  • we received your email address from a friend at company X;
  • we know you are Dutch and live in a country other than the Netherlands;
  • we are a Dutch company Y;
  • we have a product that we want you to buy;
  • the product is for children;
  • since you are a parent, we think you can do your children and us a favor by buying the product.

Now, imagine that you are indeed a Dutch expat, but do not have any children. Nor did you give company X your permission to distribute your email address. You’re also sure you did not give company Y permission to send you advertisements via email. Annoying, right?

But is it more than annoying? Well, actually: yes. It’s also illegal. Since the email originated from a Dutch company, it’s governed by Dutch law. To be specific: by the Dutch telecommunications law. This law is very clear about the actions of both company X and Y. Distributing email addresses without permission is a violation of privacy, and sending emails without explicit permission, and without the option to ask for removal from the list, is called spam and forbidden by law. Fortunately, there is a nice website from the telecommunications authority in The Netherlands, where it’s very easy to file a spam complaint.

In this case, both companies have not only broken the law, they’ve also set an example of bad marketing. By distributing the email addresses illegally, company X has shown that they cannot be trusted with your personal details. Since it operates in a small country, with a small international community, this trust can severely damage their reputation, and business.

And company Y: well, where shall I begin? If you send a message to a specific audience (parents), be sure that the people you send that message to are indeed part of that audience. If you direct a message to parents, and then send it to people who are not, that’s just silly. Another thing: why on earth would I do you a favor if you send me spam? I’ve never seen such ego-centric thinking, apart from those overly clear spam messages one might receive from places like Nigeria. To say just one more thing about it: they clearly do not understand the laws that govern the way they can do business, which also makes them an untrustworthy partner. In a country like the Netherlands, that can be killing for business.

I considered filing a complaint about both companies, but decided not to do that now. Both companies in question seem to be small entities that simply don’t understand new technologies or marketing and I think they did not have any malicious intent. Plus, they’ve given me an excellent opportunity to share some thoughts on permission marketing, which they clearly also don’t understand. Let’s hope we can learn something from their mistakes.

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