Email Marketing Compliance: Understanding CAN-SPAM
By: Christopher Skraba 03/05/2013
Advertising and marketing, like many industries, is heavily regulated by the Federal Trade Commission to ensure consumers are protected from advertisers ready to pounce and devour. However, many of America's small businesses often fail to keep compliant with digital marketing laws as they seek the dangerous DIY projects or hire cut rate help.
One of the more popular areas where small businesses could find themselves at trial instead of the closing room is their blast email marketing efforts. CAN-SPAM, a law passed in 2003 to regulate the ever growing email marketing efforts, works to protect consumers from spam email but could cost you a hearty fine of $16,000 per email sent. Serious offenses could cost you your freedom. And with the introduction of MailChimp, Constant Contact and other easily accessible blast email services, small business is facing an upward trend in lack of compliance with CAN-SPAM.
The good news is, compliance is incredibly easy. The bad news is that being compliant doesn't always make for the best DIY or cut rate project. CAN-SPAM compliance can be broken into three parts: the header, the body and the service.
What is most important to note (and should be common sense) is not to falsify header information. As an extra layer of insurance, we highly recommend that clients operate from an email of their own domain.
Above is an example of header information pulled from a consumer's Gmail account. What it is important to note is that the "From" and "Reply To" fields clearly state that the email is from US Airways. More specifically their Dividend Miles program. This is an example of a compliant email header. However, if US Airways were to state the email was from "Your Choice In Air Travel" instead of the company and program name, the email wouldn't be compliant. It is important to only use concrete and factual information in these fields. Furthermore, you will notice that the email address that the email is being sent from following the format:
It is important that the domain name clearly state the email is from your company. We strongly discourage mom and pop as well as some small business owners from sending blast emails from a consumer solution such as Gmail or AOL accounts. Making the switch to an email with your company domain guarantees your compliance and leaves no room for inturpuration which could render you vulnerable to action under the law.
Up until now we focused on areas where compliance is easy and should be exercised in your business as common sense. However, now we venture to where the marketing and advertising industry's creative ambition could be the difference between fines and freedom.
The subject line, also apart of the header information, is where one does their best to capture their target audience's attention and entice them to read the blast email. However, under the law, there is one rules as to how you creatively craft your subject line and one that's a good idea to keep in mind.
The first is to ensure that your subject line clearly represents the content of the email. Though this may seem like common sense to most business owners, you may not be aware of deception you could be using to get John Doe to open your email. Deceptive tactics that do not completely represent the content built into the email will render you vulnerable to the law.
Second, you are required to clearly label your email as an advertisement. This does not mean that you have to display the notorious "Advertisement" text that you often run across throughout the internet, as a matter of fact it isn't even required to be apart of the subject line but rather anywhere in the email. (Typically in the footer.) However, you must, in harmony with the first rule, craft your subject line in a clear, effective and efficient manner that not only captures the attention of Mr. Doe but also lets him know that the email is indeed an advertisement.
Subject lines can be tricky and its best to have a professional handle your email marketing for you so as to meet the goals of your marketing and advertising venture while maintaining compliance under the law. The logical creativity needed to insure you against CAN-SPAM isn't always best done by yourself. However, should you decide to ignore our warning and peruse such efforts by yourself we highly recommend letting your creative juice run wild in the body of the email and communicate the creativity from the body of the email in the subject line.
The body of your mass email marketing will be met with high expectations when Mr. John Doe finds your ad based subject line appealing. He will be awestruck by the genius of your message and awe struck by the beauty your content! Or so we hope. However the story may end, CAN-SPAM law is clear as to what email footers must contain in order to protect the consumer from unwanted email correspondence.
Three of the elements included in the US Airways Dividend Miles program email footer above are required by the law under CAN-SPAM. However, none are quite as important as the option to "unsubscribe" from future email correspondence. The option to unsubscribe is so important that the FTC makes sure to note that you not only need to provide this option, but must honor opt-out requests as soon as possible. For this reason (and many others) we strongly discourage businesses to send blast emails using their email service but rather a third party blast email service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. Such services not only automatically include the footer information needed to be compliant but will immediately honor opt-out requests insuring that you are compliant without having to allocate resources to the task which could open you to several liabilities.
In addition to the option to unsubscribe you must provide your full mailing address. The law states:
"This can be your current street address, a post office box you've registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you've registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations."
And finally you must clearly state the reason why the individual is receiving your marketing emails. This reason should include how they opted to participate in your emails.
It is important that you only send blast emails to those who have asked to be apart of your email marketing and advertising efforts. Gathering emails is easy and should be a part of your digital marketing strategy. However, it is of the up most importance that you never purchase an email list with the intent of sending blast emails to the recipients on the list.Such lists can be considered participating in the act of email harvesting which is highly illegal. Email harvesting also nearly guarantee that your domain be marked spam by email service providers. As such even your regular one on one email's may not make it to their intended recipient without first being placed in their "junk email" folder.
Businesses beware, because failure to comply with CAN-SPAM law is a liability held by both the advertiser and the company hired to execute the blast email campaign. As such advertisers cannot shift liability to their marketers and should be certain that their marketer is competent and aware of CAN-SPAM compliance. Failure to comply can cost your business as much as $16,000 per email sent and serious offenses could land you in prison. Remember that compliance is easy! What is hard is staying compliant while effectively marketing your business.