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April 24, 2005

"Email Marketing" Is Its Own Enemy

A scan through my spam suspects today revealed a lengthy HTML-formatted message wishing to entice me to hire the outfit to do some email marketing on my behalf. Well, not my behalf personally. On behalf of whoever receives this spam.

The message Subject: and title says:

Media Rama Email Marketing Service

Then the message starts by indicating that it is a newsletter, and that the sender is "the one stop shop for all your e-mail marketing needs and solutions." Oh good, I thought I'd have to hunt high and low to find an email marketer.

Next we get to the body. It begins,

Dear Subscriber,

BZZZZZT! Oooh, wrong answer. There's no way in hell I would have ever signed up to an email marketing newsletter. Especially one that is so proud of its identity, that the From: address of the sender is some gobbledygook user name at hotmail.com.

I read between the HTML tags to see what is being promised here. First on the menu is a service whereby they will send out emails to my opt-in list. Isn't that special! I give them my list (if I had one) of carefully qualified and confirmed opt-in addresses to do my mailing for me. You don't suppose that they'd take a copy of that list for their own use, do you? They also claim that they'll do the mailing from their email servers. Well, if that's the case, why did they send this message through a (China-based) server that shows up on every proxy/trojan block list I checked? Or, by "our servers" do they mean the zombie PCs in the bot nets they control?

If I don't have my own address list, I can choose a different service that lets me mail to their list of "550 million subscribers." I'm sorry. There's no way that 550 million individuals (perhaps half the world's e-mail users) have subscribed to your service. Voluntarily, at least. They claim their lists are used by "fortune 500 companies" (it's easier to avoid false claims when you don't use the proper "Fortune" capitalization) and government agencies. Hmm. Perhaps the addresses were lifted from such companies and agencies, so, yes, the addresses were used by these outfits before they were misappropriated.

Then they say:

You don't need to worry about spam complaints, legal issues or ISP problems.  In fact we list our own address in the emails to be CAN SPAM compliant since the[s]e are our own lists.

So, let me get this straight. You claim to mail CAN-SPAM compliantly and include your own address in the messages. But you failed to do that in the message selling your own services. The message was sent through a hijacked PC, with a phony Hotmail return address, with no postal mailing address, and an unsubscribe link to an email address hosted in India that is, as the Brits say, a bit dodgy. That's a minimum of three to four CAN-SPAM infractions in your own pitch.

The active response link in this message is not to a Web site, but to an email address. The domain of the intended recipient is hosted in Lebanon. And nowhere in this message is there ever a name of this company. If "Media Rama" is supposed to be the name, they're sure not very proud of it.

Buried within the HTML code is a clue about who's behind this: a disabled link to a domain whose name contains the word "optin" (not one of the domains I've seen associated with Scott Richter, so don't second-guess this one). I visit that site to see what its spiel is. I've seen dozens like this one before. It has all kinds of vague wording about how they can build your business through email marketing (the site also looks like crap in Firefox, despite what appears to be some otherwise slick-looking graphics). It has all the right marketing buzzwords, but no genuine substance. A top-level manager at a multi-national technology company I once worked for called this stuff "marketing bullshit." There is no indication where (i.e., even on which continent) the firm is located. All contact is through email or a submitted form. No names of the principals, thank you. If I want more information (including how to become an "affiliate"), I can sign up to their newsletter (which is probably different from the one they had spammed in my direction). The domain's registration is hidden behind a Domains by Proxy registration shield.

I also did some Googling on this name, and found it to be buried within hundreds of email marketing pages around the Web. I get the feeling that this outfit has gotten lots of affiliates to add blocks to the pyramid scheme that uses email marketing to sell email marketing to sell email marketing. My fear is that somewhere along the way, genuine small business people have bought into the vague promises at the slick Web site. Then you and I get the spam.

I've written in Spam Wars about how so many of the so-called email marketing companies lie their way into the wallets of unsuspecting businesses and lie their way into our in boxes ("You're receiving this message because you subscribed...."). There may be honest and good email marketing firms out there, but the well is so poisoned by the slime, that I'd be hard pressed to trust a one of them.

Posted on April 24, 2005 at 06:06 PM