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FTC Opt out clarification

In early July, the Magilla Marketing newsletter has an article about how email preference centers may now be illegal due to the clarifications published by the FTC. Trevor Hughes of the ESPC is quoted extensively, lamenting about how marketers cannot legally interfere in the unsubscribe process.

The FTC’s opt out clarification “complicates things in that it demands simplicity when simplicity may not be the status quo,” said Hughes. “The two opt-out mechanisms that are permissible [under the law] as we understand it are a reply-based mechanism where you reply to the e-mail and write ‘opt-out’ in the subject line or body of the message, or alternatively, that you click through to a Web page [to opt out]. But it has to be a single Web page.”

Personally, I see no problem with a single web page. As I wrote about last week, forcing recipients to use a preference center to unsubscribe means that people that are not really customers cannot unsubscribe when you start sending them email.
I do not think the FTC rulings mean the end to asking for information, or even the end of offering more choices than just opting out. According to the FTC senders must allow recipients to opt out on the first page, without anything more than the unsubscribe address and the preference. The rules do not say that the marketer cannot link to another page or ask for more information on the unsubscribe page. The rules only say that marketers cannot require more information in order to process the unsubscribe.
Trevor’s complaints seem to me to be nothing more than the lamenting of a marketer that marketers MUST make things difficult for rubes recipients in order to keep recipients on their marketing lists. His statements are extremely recipient unfriendly. Of course, it is his job to advocate for marketers and not consider the experience or desires of recipients.
In the world of non-internet direct marketing, very little consideration has been given to the recipient. Direct marketers live on the mantra that if they send enough to a recipient, eventually the recipient will make a purchase. Sadly, for the poor direct marketers, recipients actually have more power against the marketer online than they do in the real world. Annoying recipients, sending offers they do not want, sending more than they want, all that works against the sender. Smart marketers will learn to adapt. Poor marketers will lament how unfair it all is.

4 comments

  1. Ryan Clark says

    Easy opt outs should be the norm. Needing passwords to access pref centers or needing to validate email addresses be re-entering email addresses seems to the recipient as extra steps to do the “right thing” when they want out. Remember the easiest option is always the Spam button. I think a simple opt-out is good for everyone.

  2. DMZ says

    (non-official, totally-personal opinion)
    Why not just let them unsubscribe completely first, and _then_ give the preference center deal once they’ve done that (eg, providing them an opportunity to sign up again)?
    If they want off your list, it would seem best to give them what they want right up front, and then see if you can’t grab them back.

  3. Ken Magill says

    Hey Laura.
    As always thanks for the mention. I can tell you from Trevor’s tone during the interview that he was not complaining. He was simply pointing out that the new rules complicated things for some marketers.
    Overall, he was quite positive about the FTC’s clarifications, as am I.

  4. Todd Glassey says

    So let me ask – when you get a spam from a mailing list operator – how can you opt out of that list and all contact that they initiatie? The answer is that the opt-out process is flawed – since virtually all providers interpret that optout to mean you are opting out of that particular mailing that they send you, not that they have to remove your name from the list. Meaning that Opt Outs represent to them that your address is good to go meaning the process is functionally worthless unless its used against end-user list abusers IMHO.

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