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CAN-SPAM: A Headache for Channel Marketers

by Mark Littrell  |  
August 31, 2004

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 has not solved the spam issue, but it has put a lot of hurdles in front of legitimate email marketers.

What it has really accomplished is to give the Feds the tool to prosecute—a tool that didn't exist before. That's a good thing if it cuts down on the email in my inbox and addresses the need for tight corporate filters. The real challenge is for channel marketers trying to apply "brand-wide suppression" when dealing with VARs, partners and remote sales teams.

A Few Details About CAN-SPAM

Important to note is that the law, which became effective January 1, 2004, covers "commercial electronic mail messages." In other words, it covers any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is a commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including Web site content operated for a commercial purpose).

A "transactional or relationship message"—email that facilitates an agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer in an existing business relationship with respect to an ongoing commercial relationship involving the purchase or use of products by the sender—may not contain false or misleading routing information, but otherwise it is exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act. So, the takeaway here is that CAN-SPAM primarily deals with your lead or prospect list.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is expected to issue new guidelines in September. Many companies, such as Kodak, have submitted feedback and recommendations on how this law needs to be clearer in its treatment of B2B communications.

As it exists today, CAN-SPAM applies to B2B communications in exactly the same way that it applies to B2C email marketing. It does not differentiate between large-scale outbound communications and a single email sent by a single sales rep. The key to determining whether it applies to you is to establish the primary purpose of the message—does it advertise your company's product or service?

Recommendations for Compliance

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Mark Littrell is a marketing manager at Information Management Research, Inc. Reach him at

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