Email has been described as the "killer app" for direct response—and for good reason. In theory, if you email to one million addresses, you will reach one million people.

If you purchase one million ad impressions on the Web, however, you don't know if you'll reach one million people one time, 500 thousand people twice, or 50 thousand people 20 times. So if an advertiser's goal is reach, email is hard to beat.

Department store pioneer John Wanamaker is supposed to have said, "Half my advertising is wasted. I just don't know which half."

But what if 50% waste turned into 90% waste?

Falling Open Rates

As a media planner, I've recently noticed that the open rates of HTML email campaigns have been falling (the open rate is based on the number of calls to the server from respondents who open the HTML email).

The culprit? UCE (unsolicited commercial email), commonly referred to as spam. It now accounts for anywhere from 20% to 70% of all email. As a result, corporations and ISPs are implementing filters and anti-spam software to intercept messages, making it more difficult for legitimate marketers to reach customers.

So the million-dollar question is, "How many emails never reach their intended recipient?" Online marketers say up to 15% of legitimate email never reaches its intended recipient, and the number is expected to grow as more corporations and individuals install anti-spam software.

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Neil Monnens Mr. Monnens is a principal at MediumDoneWell, a company that puts online publishers on the inside track with advertisers and their agencies. He can be reached at or by phone 415-386-6153.