The Direct Marketing Association, hitherto a bastion of opposition to any move to limit spam [unsolicited marketing emails], has finally caved-in to consumer and business outrage at the tsunami of email huckstering of everything from organ enlargement to get-poor-quick scams.

At its annual convention in San Francisco, the New York-headquartered marketing body said Tuesday it will direct its considerable federal and state lobbying power to urge the enactment of laws restricting the million-message scourge.

The 4,700-member DMA is concerned that the present inundation makes legitimate commercial e-mail indistinguishable from unwanted spam. “We need legislation,” concedes DMA vp for government affairs Jerry Cerasale. “We believe the sheer volume will just swamp the medium and the medium will no longer be useful for marketing.”

The organization has unveiled a set of guidelines for e-marketers, among which is a ban on unsolicited emails that use deceptive identifiers, such as false subject lines and return addresses. Email agencies should be required to list the physical address and contact information of the business on whose behalf the message is sent.

But most important, according to Cerasale, is to impose on marketers the inclusion of a prominently displayed ‘unsubscribe’ facility. “If you can't unsubscribe, there's no way to stop it. We need to give the consumer the means to try and stop it.”

But, true to form, the DMA remains a doughty proponent of the unfettered right to spam provided the spammer targets a certain demographic or interest group as opposed to the presentment swamping technique.

Antispammers were not impressed by the DMA’s initiative. It “might clear out some of the scam artists but would probably increase the amount of unsolicited emails sent by ‘legitimate’ companies,” worries John Mozena, co-founder of theCoalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail.

CAUCE advocates an ‘opt-in’ solution that allows marketers to use the medium only to existing customers or non-cutomers who have specifically requested email. This is essentially a replay of recent legislation in the European Union – more stringent than any of the present US anti-spam state laws.

Faced with such an alternative, it is unsurprising that Tom Cowles, head honcho of mass spammer Empire Towers Corporation, “wholeheartedly” favors the DMA route, believing it will give his business greater legitimacy. The guidelines, says Cowles, should restrict email content while forcing ISPs to host only those marketers that obey the rules.

Data sourced from: Minneapolis Star Tribune; additional content by WARC staff