CAN-SPAM Act Compliance and Responsible Email Marketing

Everyone hates spam email messages, but that doesn’t stop so many people and businesses from sending them. Any decent businessperson or marketer understands that sales-oriented emails only have value if the recipients opted in to receiving them and have demonstrated some interest in whatever is being marketed.

Spamming people with unsolicited self-promotional bulk email is unprofessional and a nuisance, so it easily damages a brand’s reputation. But spam can also have major financial costs—fees of up to $16,000 per each separate message—if they’re found to be in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act.

About the CAN-SPAM Act 

CAN-SPAM is an acronym for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. It was signed into Federal law back in 2003 and sets standards for sending “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an internet website operated for a commercial purpose).”

If you rely on any type of email marketing, like a newsletter or email promotions, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the specifications of the law to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. And keep in mind that you can be held responsible for spam sent on your brand’s behalf by an employee, independent contractor, marketing agency, or other third party.

Main Provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act

Here are the key rules set forth by the law:

  • Make sure recipients can see the true origin of the email, including the email address and domain from which it was sent, and that they know who their replies go to
  • Do not use dishonest or misleading subject lines; the subject field should accurately represent the content of the email
  • Indicate clearly in the content that your message is promotional in nature
  • List valid current business contact information, including a physical address or registered PO box
  • Always provide an obvious, clear, simple, online way for recipients to opt out of further email communication from your brand; it’s OK to offer multiple options for different subscription levels or frequency of contact, but you must include an option for receiving no further contact
  • Ensure that all opt-out requests are honored within 10 business days
  • Don’t ask for any personally identifying information other than an email address in your opt-out process; you may ask for—but not require—a reason the person is unsubscribing
  • Don’t charge a fee or require visiting more than a single web page to complete the opt-out process
  • If you send adult content, it must be explicitly labeled as such in the subject line

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