EUROPE: For once, we may get an opt-in from Europe

A recent European Parliamentary vote has given hope to those who want e-mail marketing regulated for its own sake

This week the European Parliament almost gave some of us involved in the-mail marketing industry cause for celebration by striking an unexpected blow against spammers (people who send junk-mail). I’m referring, of course, to the parliament’s vote on the draft directive on electronic communications, which came out in favour of an “opt-in” policy.

A definitive decision is not due until later this year, so which way the final vote will go is still very much an open – and emotive – issue. A preliminary ruling, published in July, went against opt-in, but the latest vote carries more credibility and, we hope, gives a stronger indication of what the final outcome will be. The future success of the-mail marketing industry depends on it.

The ruling will grate with advocates of “opt-out” (the UK Government and the Direct Marketing Association among them). It’s their opinion that businesses should be at liberty to send unsolicited-mails.

People in the opt-in camp realise that, while spamming may enable marketers to hit short-term campaign targets, it also damages the credibility of-marketing with the people that matter most – consumers. And if there’s one thing this industry doesn’t need at the moment, it’s a further blow to its reputation.

The fundamental problem with the opt-out model is that it places ethical responsibility in the hands of the practitioner. As a quick glance in most people’s inboxes will tell you, there are plenty of marketers out there who cannot be relied upon to behave themselves. The EU needs to give-marketing enough protection to allow it to succeed.

The answer to this fiercely debated issue has to be opt-in. Enforcing binding opt-in legislation will give more credibility to our fledgling industry (which is still young enough to change its slightly tainted image). More importantly, such legislation will protect the industry’s future growth from the growing band of unscrupulous users.

Simply by clearing junk mail from the inboxes of consumers and businesses alike, opt-in marketers will be in a better position to open up a personal dialogue with customers that can only result in a more rewarding and worthwhile exchange for both parties involved.

It’s not often that the Brits offer the EU a pat on the back, but if it finally supports opt-in there’ll be a good number of us queuing up to do just that. So cross your fingers and watch this space.

Outi Tuomaala is vice-president of marketing of L-Soft UK

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