What are the Acceptable Email Marketing Practices under the CAN-SPAM Act?

The General Council of the Association of National Advertisers (4A’s) defines Email Marketing as, “the use of email to send marketing messages to individuals or groups of people.”

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (and all its follow-ups) regulate the email marketing industry. Essentially, any marketing email that you send to potential customers must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. As a result, email marketers need to follow a certain set of procedures so that their emails don’t get flagged as being fraudulent. Here, we’ll discuss the most up-to-date acceptable email marketing practices under the CAN-SPAM Act.

The Ultimate Guide to Complying with the CAN-SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 instituted several requirements for commercial email messages, including:

  • Identification of the person or entity sending the email
  • Identification of the person or entity they are addressing
  • A clear indication of who the recipient is
  • A subject line that provides sufficient information
  • A description of the product or service being offered
  • An opt-in or opt-out mechanism
  • Legitimate use of the email
  • Fairness in advertising
  • Correct use of capitalization, spelling, and grammar
  • Not misleading or deceptive subjects or offers
  • Solicited business email
  • Each email must have a header that includes the sender’s name, the recipient’s name, and the subject line

As a commercial email marketer, you must be aware of these requirements and ensure that your emails comply with them. Otherwise, you risk running afoul of the law and being penalized. In this article, we’ll discuss the most recent acceptable email marketing practices that you need to follow in order to stay compliant under the CAN-SPAM Act.

Identification Of The Person Or Entity Sending The Email

All commercial emails must include the name of the person or entity that is sending the email and an indication of whether the person or entity is an individual or a natural person or corporation. You must also provide the physical mailing address of the person. If you’re emailing a collection of individuals, you must be especially mindful of this point. Make sure to include the names and email addresses of the people that you’re emailing, but be careful not to provide the physical address of anyone. The CAN-SPAM Act discourages sending unsolicited emails, so you must ensure that your recipient knows that you’ve specifically addressed your email to them. The above screenshot is an example of a compliant email as discussed below:

Identification Of The Person Or Entity To Whom The Email Is Addressed

As mentioned above, all commercial emails should include the name of the person or entity to whom the email is addressed. Additionally, you must include one of the following types of IDs:

  • A physical address, such as a street address or zip code
  • An email address
  • A digital ID, such as a URL or QR code
  • A phone number
  • A birth date
  • A company name
  • A logo
  • A certification that the sender is a valid licensee under the CAN-SPAM Act
  • The country of origin of the product or service being promoted
  • A statement that the sender is an authorized distributor, agent, or representative of a company or organization
  • A statement that the email is not intended to provide false or misleading information

If you’re emailing a collection of individuals, you must make sure that each person in the group is identified. In this case, you would put the email addresses of everyone in the group after the “@” symbol, as shown below:

A Clear Indication Of Who The Recipient Is

Commercial emails must include a clear indication of who the intended recipient is. You must include an “To:” line or other explicit indication of the recipient’s identity in the body of the email. You should use the recipient’s full name, or something very close to it. In the example screenshot below, you can see that this email includes the name “Michael Crichton,” the recipient’s email address, and the subject line:

A Subject Line That Provides Sufficient Information

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that the subject line of a commercial email provide “sufficient information” to make it clear that the email is not an unlawful attempt to obtain personal information. The Act defines “sufficient information” as, “information that is sufficiently detailed and not so exaggerated as to be misleading.”

Keep in mind that the subject line is a short and simple line that some people may scan without a lot of effort. So, as a marketer you must ensure that the subject line is engaging and understandable without being too clever.

A Description Of The Product Or Service Being Promoted

Another critical part of any email marketing campaign is the text that accompanies the image. The text must be “relevant and material to the message being conveyed.” Remember, people who are receiving your emails are likely to be distracted by shiny objects, so you must keep the text concise, yet interesting enough to draw readers in.

The above example is a fully compliant email where the text directly relates to the image. You can see how the email begins with a short description of Michael Crichton’s new novel, “State of Fear,” and ends with a call to action to buy the book.

An Opt-in Or Opt-out Mechanism

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that all email marketing messages include an opt-in or opt-out mechanism. An opt-in mechanism requires the recipient to affirmatively respond to the offer in some way (e.g., by clicking a button or making a purchase). A simple “thank you” will suffice. An opt-out mechanism allows recipients to decline future email marketing communications from companies that they previously agreed to receive such communications from.

If you don’t have an opt-out mechanism, and you email people without their prior consent, you could be in violation of the law. Thankfully, most email marketing tools include an opt-out mechanism that allows you to create custom groups of contacts where you can toggle compliance settings.

In summary, the CAN-SPAM Act establishes some important ground rules for commercial email marketers. You must provide reliable and accurate information about your products (e.g., prices, sizes, etc.) and be able to respond to customer inquiries. Inaccurate or unreliable information could lead to legal action. Email marketing campaigns must be clearly identified as such, and marketers must use a variety of tactics to ensure that their messages are not mistaken for unsolicited commercial messages. Commercial emails must also include enough information to make it clear to recipients that the email is not a misrepresentation or an attempt to obtain confidential personal information. By following these rules, you can ensure that your email marketing is not only legal, but it will also result in more effective communication and the generation of valuable customer insights.

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