Enough with those e-mails promising to enlarge your ink-jet credit overnight while you work at home -- or some such nonsense. Spam is the wart that threatens to permanently disfigure commercial e-mail. Why most people dislike spam more than unsolicited direct paper mail comes down to three simple reasons.

One is that people pay to go online, and therefore pay to receive e-mail. Spam is thus more than just discourteous; it's a money-waster for the recipient, and a time-waster, too. Two, some spam is vulgar or unwanted in other ways -- what do you do when your children receive pornography solicitations via e-mail? Three, for many people, e-mail is a personal thing, so getting spam appears invasive and a violation of privacy.

From the marketer's point of view, a major snag that comes from spam -- also called unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) in some circles -- is losing the prospective or existing customer even before you start. According to a survey from Quris, while 62% of respondents are either curious or even eager to read permission e-mail, only 13% feel the same way about e-mail from unknown senders. Perhaps more importantly, 52% simply delete UCE without opening it and 21% are actively annoyed by such missives.

The active distaste for spam also shows in an online poll on the Wall Street Journal Online. People were asked, "If there were only one way for online marketers to reach you, what would it be?" Traditional banner ads came out on top. Surprisingly, however, 6% of respondents would want to be spammed.

Whether you camouflage it politely as UCE or call it spam, these e-mails are increasing. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, the quantity of spam received per user in the US is 738 UCEs in 2002, and more than twice as much could be received by 2006.

As more spam gets spewed, more e-mail in general shows up in users' inboxes. Permission-based marketing e-mails can then get lost in the flood. The juncture of increased e-mail and spam shows below in a survey from Quris.

So what's an interactive marketer to do?

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David Hallerman is a Senior Analyst with eMarketer. You can reach him at dhallerman@emarketer.com with comments, questions or suggestions.