Dear Tig,

I've run into a snag with my boss regarding our new email newsletter. He seems to think that the email wouldn't be considered Spam even if we send it to all of our customers, prospects, etc., without ever having sought permission. How can I help him understand the importance of creating an opt-in list?

Thank you,

Before the Deluge

Dear Before,

I know I'd be preaching to the choir if I told you about how Spam is in the eye of the beholder, and that sending it out to your entire customer list could be a boneheaded move. It sounds like you've made an unsuccessful effort at convincing your boss with this already. He may simply misapprehend the willingness of your customers to withstand self-serving messages, and it's his opinion against yours.

But to this I would add that the customer list is an exceptionally risky audience. If a non-customer gets a message they consider Spam, they may hate your guts forever, but you didn't lose money.

If a paying customer is given reason to reconsider his opinion of you, though, that's a completely different matter. This could be terrible, and that risk is something for him to consider carefully before ignoring your good advice.

There is one more stick you can use.

Depending on how you acquired the emails and how you construct the newsletter, the whole project may fall afoul of several self-anointed Spam cops. If people report you, these organizations have some real clout to force your ISP to shut down your account. In the very least, your boss needs to understand precisely what you need to do to avoid this.


Hi Tig,

What is your stance on pre-populating (defaulting) an opt-in checkbox to "checked”? What is the current industry standard regarding this issue? Is it best to leave it unchecked so the contact is in a position where they must take action in order to subscribe to a list?



Dear Checkers,

I don't think there is a general rule, but I do have a few opinions. How you set those check boxes says a lot about a company. Defaulting to the “Yes, please send me offers from other companies” status reeks of desperation and lack of concern for the customer.

I recently re-subscribed to The Economist, and was pleasantly rewarded with default boxes that, to a one, erred on the side of sending me nothing at all. I was so pleased with their policy that I felt a greater degree of trust. I wound up subscribing to their weekly political round-up.

Beware the default check box that creates a misunderstanding with the user. Often, when a long form gets submitted, a quick check is done on the data that the user entered. The server determines if, for instance, there are letters in the zip code box. If such an error crops up, the user gets sent back to correct the form before moving onward.

In some instances, I've seen the form with the incorrect address come back to me with my data entered in, except with the check boxes set back to the default. In other words, I clicked the check box to protect my email address, yet by having to correct my address information later, I very nearly indicated the opposite. This doesn't make for happy customers.

Also, today's users are much more aware of those privacy check boxes. Where they once ignored them, much like they ignore user licensing agreement checkmarks, today there's a great concern about Spam and its reduction.

Those defaults, now more then ever, send loud messages.


Dear Tig,

I'm a media guy, which, from the opinions of some of the people I work with, you'd think makes me immune from creative taste. You see, the campaign I just finished planning has terrible creative. Truly horrid. Embarrassing. But my supervisor says “we're not the experts,” and essentially to stay quiet. Agh, it pains me to think of this creative.

Tell me what to do,

In Agony

Dear Agony,

Tell them. They will dismiss you as a nosy media person. They may even make fun of the figurative slide rule in your shirt pocket, but tell them. You'll likely turn out to be right, and someone will remember that next time.

Oh, and try not to tell them in the way you told me. The whole “Agh” part has to go. Just be specific and tactical about what makes you cringe and how it might be adapted.

Media people often have the burden of being ignored, but with it comes the luxury of being blunt to an extent without consequences.

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Tig Tillinghast writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.