The USA has CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) and the UK has its own anti-spam law effective 2003. Countries like Qatar, UAE, South Africa, Pakistan and India are considering stringent anti-spam laws too.
As on date, India lacks clearly defined anti-spam laws. So how do companies and users react to spam?
Karthi Marshan, head - marketing, Kotak Mahindra Group, notes that while some marketers do spam databases, there are others who are averse to the idea. He said, "My belief is that all sentient marketers frown upon spamming as a means to reach brand or product messaging to their target audiences."
Abraham Alapatt, head of marketing, Thomas Cook (India), admits that the travel industry, especially the smaller and less organised players, doesn't take spamming seriously.
He explained, "Offers and promotions, especially to promote group travel (where inventory needs to be sold by a certain cut off date) and specific offers on air/hotel packages etc., that are both time bound and subject to rapid fluctuations, are frequently sent to aggregated and bought databases as part of ongoing marketing efforts."
Pankaj Agrawal, chief sales officer - enterprise business, Netcore Solutions, points out that a client's attitude towards spamming varies depending on the industry vertical.
"We have seen organisations in the banking, financial services, insurance, and brick-and-mortar retail sectors being very conscious about sending communication only to customers who have opted in. However, a lot of e-commerce organisations tend to spam in their growth phase," he observed.
So, is it justified to spam databases if you're a start-up or are in a growth phase? Sidharth Rao, chief executive officer and co-founder, Webchutney, disagrees. He said, "Whether you are a start-up or a Fortune 500 company, spam is spam. Nothing makes it 'more right' or legit."
Rao adds that spamming is for lazy marketers and agencies who aren't willing to invest time and money in understanding and profiling their target customer base, and sending relevant information to that defined set of customers thereafter.
Venkat Mallik, president, Tribal DDB and RAPP India, points out that marketing is often about reaching people who are not necessarily asking for your products or solutions and getting them to buy what you have to offer. "So, marketers will constantly seek ways of reaching them at the lowest cost to that end," he explained.
At the other end of the pipe is the consumer receiving communication from myriad sources, not all of it welcome.
E-mail spam has become a blind spot for users, says Kunal Jeswani, country head, OgilvyOne India. He added, "Most people just view the 'Subject Line' and hit delete if it doesn't interest them. Phone spam (calls and SMS) are, however, a huge irritant - and, in my opinion, can have a strong negative rub-off on a brand."
Webchutney's Rao differs. To him, e-mail spam is 'as pesky' as SMS spam.
Alok Kejriwal, co-founder and chief executive officer, Games2win, touches upon a greater damage befalling clients and companies that have a tendency to spam databases.
"The danger is not that the users will unsubscribe because that takes time and effort on their part, but incessant reporting of spam will get these brands blacklisted and declared corrupt," he noted.
His point is that spamming reduces the open rate/CTR (click-through rate) for the brand's e-mails. "Clients need to understand that it's pure science and mathematics because you can measure the impact of sent e-mails. The sad reality is some of them are still being subjective about it," he rued.
Marshan surmised, "Upset customers rarely raise their voice to protest. They vote with their wallets and feet."
Hopefully, then, marketers will take note and resist.