A Former Spam King Reflects on 15 Years in Email Marketing

A Former Spam King Reflects on 15 Years in Email Marketing

We’ve come a long way since then, with an estimated average of 269 billion emails sent/received each day in 2017. As email accounts became more common through the 1990s, marketers taking greater advantage of the new mass communication channel pushed the technology and the boundaries of what is possible within the medium. At our peak, we were sending out over 100 million marketing emails every day, making my company one of the biggest email marketers in the world. All this notoriety led to some members of the industry and media outlets describing me as a so-called "Spam King." A few other large mass email marketers were tagged with the title as well. In 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act, providing email marketers with a set of rules to follow when mailing to recipients in the U.S. You might think that emailers were up in arms when the law passed. In fact, it set up the rules that make sending spam legal in the U.S. There have been any number of changes to the email industry since the early days. Marketers have adapted and continue successfully engage with consumers and drive response to their email messages. But, here we are 40 years after that first marketing email and the channel is still going strong.

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A Former Spam King Reflects on 15 Years in Email Marketing

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Email marketing got its start back in 1978, when the first “mass” email was sent to about 400 email addresses to promote a product. We’ve come a long way since then, with an estimated average of 269 billion emails sent/received each day in 2017. Estimates of how many of those are marketing emails but most estimates are over 50 percent. That means, on average, more than 135 billion marketing emails were sent each day in 2017.

Let that sink in for a bit.

As email accounts became more common through the 1990s, marketers taking greater advantage of the new mass communication channel pushed the technology and the boundaries of what is possible within the medium. From early text-based emails to the emergence of graphics, dynamically generated content, HTML, personalization and automation, innovation has come about largely based on the needs of the marketing and advertising industry.

By 2000, email marketing companies were regularly charging clients more than $300,000 to send marketing messages to their email databases. Email was the king of the digital marketing hill. There was no shortage of entrepreneurs and companies diving into the email marketing arena to drive massive revenue.

The Wild West

I got into email marketing in 1999 when the email marketing industry really was the Wild West, mainly because regulation was extremely inconsistent. Every state in the U.S. had its own laws and regulations, which didn’t always agree or offer a clear framework for emailers to follow. Not surprisingly, this led to a great deal of legal action against email marketers. My companies were no strangers to litigation during the early 2000s. At our peak, we were sending out over 100 million marketing emails every day, making my company one of the biggest email marketers in the world.

At the time I gained some notoriety as one of the biggest email marketers in the world partly due to media coverage of some lawsuits, and also through a feature on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. I still laugh at the reactions of people who took everything in the video as if it was a serious interview, since it was largely scripted with the show’s writers to be as funny as possible. Little did I know that being on camera would foreshadow my post-email marketing business trajectory.

All this notoriety led to some members of the industry and media outlets describing me as a so-called “Spam King.” A few other large mass email marketers were tagged with the…

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