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My Dearest Spammer

A love letter to the tech marketers who buy my contact information.

Stop using my first name in your marketing emails. It isn't cute or clever. And it's certainly not going to increase your response rates. There will never come a day when I think, "Geez, how's my old friend Noreply doing?"

Forget for a moment that it's unimaginative and desperate, especially if you have a legitimate product or service. When you pay some bottom-feeding company like DiscoverOrg for my work email address or phone number (necessarily without my consent!), your marketing smells of V1agra.

Even if your tone is professional -- even if you use your real name -- and even if you somehow sound authentic, you don't deserve a meeting or even a response. It's like a mugger returning your empty wallet with a crayon-written note: "Check this box if you want to be my BFF." I don't. You're a spammer. You deserve a framed picture on some wall of shame. The problem is that we don't have said wall. Spamhaus has its 10 Worst Spammers list, but they're all predatory asses selling placebos to your grandmother in Kansas. And it should irk us all that most of the faces on the Spamhaus list have smug smiles. The lesson there is that you can't shame someone who is proud of his "ingenuity."

But a market-based solution would work for enterprise spammers because most are legitimate businesses. They just saaaahuck at marketing. They don't create useful, consumable, edutaining content. If they blog, it's completely self-serving. And their definition of a white paper is a way to play buzzword bingo without stock images of women in business suits (the lowest possible bar for demonstrating diversity).

[Want more advice from Mr. Meshing? Read Career Advice From The Future.]

Look, no one likes spam. So writing an anti-spam column is like finally coming out against racism. The problem is that our cultural understanding of spam lets craptastic sales organizations rationalize their "marketing" (in giant air quotes) as legit simply because there's a real company behind it.

I get hundreds of these emails and calls a week. From people at real companies, mind you. And trust me when I tell you that I'm not alone in thinking that this approach cripples their credibility and increasingly delegitimizes their business.

What follows is a proposal for how to end this behavior (with or without the cooperation of the offending parties).

First, a threat posing as a weekend dev project
All right, team, for this exercise we're going to need a website. But what to name it? Let's be generous and say that only one out of every four marketers sucks all the marrow out of our lives. Not marketer A, B, or C but that lazy fourth one, leaving us a high-concept domain name: Someone trademark it. Quickly.

Now imagine a world where every time someone receives an unsolicited email at work, they forward it to Heck, most people are even sophisticated enough to create Outlook auto-forwarding rules that zero in on words such as unsubscribe, big data, cloud, and hello. (Seriously, who in 2014 starts emails with "Hello"? It's creepy.)

The owner of the domain would just need to parse out the original sender/text of all inbound emails, making sure to strip out their original recipient (i.e., the victim). Then the system could extract, store, and score the spammer's email address and domain. After that, it's relatively simple to publish a wall of shame à la Spamhaus. For extra credit, the site could offer a simple service that lets Ops folks access a blacklist.

The site could even have two ironic cherries on top. First, a monetization strategy that lets offenders reduce their scores for a fee. Rich! Second, it could offer a weekly automated email to all offending violators that shares everyone's marketerd rankings. Just make sure there's a clearly visible unsubscribe link at the bottom of that email, the marketing world's legally sanctioned equivalent of saying the Rosary twice.

Note: If anyone spends a weekend building this site, I'll do more than just transfer the much-sought-after domain to them. Lunch, baaaby! Plus, a promise that after your death, I personally will fill out all the forms needed to grant you sainthood.

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Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 11:34:22 AM
Re: Hello Whoopty
Coverlet is right about anything starting with "Hello" being untrustworthy, even creepy. There's something "Hannibal Lechter" about it.
IW Pick
User Rank: Ninja
1/14/2014 | 10:41:40 AM
Hello Whoopty
The one I get all the time is "Hello Whoopty," as it's the alias I often use. Red flag right there. 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 10:13:30 AM
Speak of the devil
Greetings David!

I hope you are doing well!!

My name is Barney; I had a chance to glance your company's website and some your services and solutions. Would you be interested in list in any Opt-in contacts from the below mentioned list?
Jim Donahue
Jim Donahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 10:12:26 AM
I was in the market for a car last year and signed up for a service that would let me know which cars local dealers had in stock. The service also sold my email address to every spammer in the universe. I went from getting about five spam emails per day in my "bulk" folder to ... oh, roughly 300+. And since sometimes real email I want ends up in the bulk folder, it's now lost.

After a public, prolonged shaming on Twitter, I got the original culprit to take me off its emails, but that's only dropped my spam to about 100 a day.

 And yes, most address me as "Jim." That doesn't feel any friendlier.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 10:07:26 AM
All you'll need to make this website successful ...
... a lot of pop-up ads.
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