US scheme to win fans of spam

Imagine a world where consumers positively clamour to receive your direct marketing literature, rather than irritatedly wonder how to get off your mailing list before giving up?

Such a world may be possible. While US and European regulators and direct marketing industries grapple with the problems of policing the burgeoning volumes of spam (unsolicited junk e-mail) on the Web, outfits such as San Francisco-based BonusMail are providing a model of how the future of one-to-one direct marketing on the Web might work.

The model is remarkably simple. The consumer registers on the BonusMail site ( listing areas of interest about which they are happy to receive details of special offers from advertisers partnering BonusMail.

These partners include major retail brands such as The Gap, Disney, Tower Records, US bookseller Barnes & Noble, and a range of airlines including British Airways, KLM, Northwest Airlines and TWA.

Then, for each e-mail received by the BonusMail user, the consumer accumulates points which can be redeemed against a range of offers detailed on the BonusMail Rew@rds Chart or used to order coupons which are physically mailed to your address.

The venture, started last year by direct response e-mail specialist Intellipost Corporation, has just launched a heavyweight banner ad campaign on Yahoo!’s main US site to bolster its customer base. And at last report, the company claimed to have recruited nearly 400,000 members happy to receive tightly controlled e-mail ads.

The marketing push by BonusMail comes as the Direct Marketing Association in the US is fighting a fierce lobbying battle with federal authorities to ward off the threat of legislation to control spam, which might threaten to impinge on the growth of direct marketing on the Web.

Last week the DMA in the US issued a statement by Jerry Cerasale, a government affairs executive for the DMA, once again making the argument against the imposition of widespread federal regulation in the area of online direct marketing.

“New advances in filtering, new opt-in and opt-out marketing models, and self-regulation among good players have the potential to make the e-mail medium useful for marketers and consumers,” says Cerasales. “Government regulation should focus on fraud and restricting the unique practices of bad players,” he adds.

The question remains that if BonusMail is successfully pioneering the sort of “new opt-in” marketing being lionised by the DMA in the US, how long will it be before we see BonusMail or an equivalent launching over here?

According to a company statement: “At this time we can’t offer the BonusMail service to non-US or Canadian residents. We are, however, currently developing our BonusMail International system for users outside the US. “

Would such an incentivised scheme find a welcome in the UK? The current fad for supermarket loyalty cards suggest that, while it might not be popular with everyone, a BonusMail-style rewards scheme would work as well among UK online consumers as it does the States.

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