The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)--trade groups that together represent more than 6,000 companies--wrote an open letter to Congress in Thursday's edition of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newsletter.
The letter urged Congress toto bring consistency to the fragmented antispam laws already on the books in 37 states and to pave the way for legitimate companies to continue communicating via e-mail with their customers.
"Immediate action is required to go after the bad guys on spam and avert a crisis that will bring legitimate electronic commerce to a screeching halt," according to the letter.
The trade groups' joint endeavor to lobby Congress signals new urgency among marketers to avert a spam crisis. Unwanted e-mail has become an epidemic, making up more than 50 percent of incoming e-mail in some cases. That's prompting consumers, corporations and state lawmakers to take strong measures to cope, including legislative talks of creating a national "do not spam" list. Marketers are concerned that such legislation could go too far and dampen their ability to effectively communicate with consumers via e-mail.
The stakes are high. About $16.6 billion of the annual $138 billion Internet commerce market will be driven by commercial e-mail in 2003, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited in the letter.
The AAAA, ANA and DMA already introduced e-mail guidelines to help jump-start some industry self-regulation and urge conformity for marketing tactics online. Independently, the DMA also, a group of members and industry leaders who will work with the FBI to identify and prosecute spammers.
In their letter to Congress, the groups promoted the passage ofor the Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act. Both permit marketers to send unsolicited bulk mail to any number of recipients, provided that the sender includes a way to be removed from future mailings and honors "opt out" requests. That idea has been community for granting tens of thousands of e-mail marketers the right to spam consumers repeatedly until they click on an "unsubscribe" link.
Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Calif., immediately criticized the group lobbying effort, saying it endorses legislation that preempts a stronger California law set to take effect Jan. 1, 2004.
California enacted antispam legislation in September with the stiffest penalties of all states. In essence the nation's first "opt-in" law, it requires advertisers to secure permission from a consumer before sending commercial e-mail. The law also lets citizens and ISPs (Internet service providers) seek civil damages of up to $1,000 per e-mail per customer and $1 million per mass mailing.
"Advertisers love the congressional bills because they don't can spam, they legalize it," Bowen said in a statement.
"There's nothing 'knee-jerk' about the California law," Bowen said. "It couldn't be clearer. If you want to e-mail an advertisement to someone you don't already have a business relationship with, you need to get their permission first. That's it. That's how it works nationwide for fax advertising, and that's how it's going to work for e-mail advertising in California come next year, unless Congress decides to keep doing the DMA's bidding."