Changes to CAN-SPAM Law & Your E-Mail Reputation

David Kearney, CEO of e-mail service provider Boomerang, recently wrote a handy synopsis of recent updates to the CAN-SPAM law governing e-mail marketing. Amongst the highlights:

1. When an e-mail features more than one company (ex: a co-sponsored event), one company can be designated the “sender.” That company should be represented in the “from” line and is in charge of opt-outs, etc. Note: all sponsors of the message are still liable under CAN-SPAM.

2. E-mails that are forwarded to a third party using a FTAF (Forward to a Friend) utility are not liable for CAN-SPAM prosecution, even if they lack CAN-SPAM requirements (physical mailing address, etc.) unless the marketer is paying the recipient to forward the e-mail.

I was also struck by another comment of David’s in the same post:

“(We) strongly urge our clients to grow their list organically and to not rent or buy email lists, not only because list rentals ruin our reputation and that of our clients, but also because they simply don’t work.”

Now, I can certainly understand why it’s in Boomerang’s business interest to have their clients not rent e-mail lists: namely, they can’t broadcast to those lists using Boomerang. I also concur that buying lists is a risky proposition (any e-mail list you can buy is almost definitely not opt-in, by definition), but “list rentals ruin our reputation and that of our clients”? With all due respect to David, that seems a bit harsh.

It’s true, response rates from rented lists have decreased substantially in the past few years, to the point where, at CDI, we use them very selectively, but I’ve never considered I was putting a client’s reputation at risk by doing so. Owners of opt-in e-mail lists (and by that I mean well-known, reputable publishers) and list brokers are, in my experience, some of the most diligent adherents to CAN-SPAM and direct marketing best practices in general. Furthermore, list acquisition methods that some might consider “organic” – for example, harvesting individual e-mail addresses from Websites, or buying contacts from the new breed of business databases like of Jigsaw and Spoke, can easily result in spamming if abused.

In my view, you run no risk to your reputation by renting e-mail lists providing you use opt-in lists exclusively and work with a trusted broker or agency partner. Furthermore, renting e-mail lists is still a viable, cost-efficient means of pushing your message to the marketplace, reaching prospects you wouldn’t reach if you simply tried to grow your list “organically.”

It’s possible (even probable) that David is referring to his clients’ “sender reputation,” a measure of a marketer’s trustworthiness built on, amongst other things, the spam reports that company’s e-mails generate, the delivery rate of those e-mails, etc. But even then: because e-mail list owners get instant notification of bad addresses, and because they’re motivated to keep their files as clean as possible in order to generate high performance and repeat business, the deliverability rate of those lists can often exceed a client’s own in-house database.

Comments? If you rent an e-mail list, do you consider your company’s reputation in jeopardy?

5 thoughts on “Changes to CAN-SPAM Law & Your E-Mail Reputation

  1. Steve Mertel

    Well-said Howard. A small part of me can understand where David is coming from. I stress SMALL. I am a list broker. I help market everything from consumer catalogs to technology webinars.

    The point I want to focus my comments on is where David states: “list rentals ruin our reputation and that of our clients” This statement is a bit extreme to me and I believe results from bad list research prior to renting a list. List Research is one of the most critical components to a successful email marketing campaign. Using reputable sources is key. If you don’t know how to find them, consult a list broker. We focus on list rental as our primary channel of marketing for our clients. We will not only assist in marketing to a reputable list but assist in price negotiations, facilitation of campaign, analysis of results, and many other value added services.

    These key points will help maintain the reputation that you worked so hard to get.

  2. John W. Furst

    Using someone else email list is just another form of reaching potential buyers. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s a lead generation method that seems to be largely neglected by the online business community. They should consider it, though.

    There are certainly markets, in which you would not reach those targeted prospects with any other means at comparable cost.

    Jeopardy? It depends on the reputation and practices of the list owner. Anything can be abused. You certainly should do your homework and check out potential partners beforehand.

    At the same time, I’d advise that you build your own list and build a relationship with those folks. But your initial lead could be “borrowed”.

    The net is full of “free traffic, free leads – how to strategies”, but in reality, it is often more effective and efficient to buy leads. It’s quicker and if the source is good, it will be more targeted as well. –Yours John

    P.S.: You have some very valuable content on your blog. I’d really like to invite you to submit to my new “email marketing tips blog carnival”. That’t the kind of info (quality-wise) that I am looking for. You can check out the first edition at

  3. Terry Christiani

    The best experiences in renting lists that I have had in B2B email marketing are the opt-in lists of industry publications and industry associations. Yes, they can be a bit more expensive than other lists, but you are guaranteed the two most important things in your target audience:

    1. Permission
    2. Genuine Interest

    Converting names from these B2B list rental sources is easier and the subsequent brand awareness among them will drive your open & click-thrus ever upwards over time as long as you are consistently putting quality content in front of them.

    Renting opt-in lists is not going to ruin anything. Now, if the quality of your content and offer are shaky, then you are definitely at risk.

  4. Chris Kellerman

    Hi Howard, Chris Kellerman from Boomerang here. I was actually the author of the post that you referred to above (thank you for the nice comments by the way) and I wanted to respond.

    Re-reading my post just now, the quote about ruining reputations and rental lists not working does seem a bit harsh, and I certainly did not mean to debase legitimate list brokers with that comment.

    That said, as you mentioned I was simply stating our company’s own need to protect itself from sending to a “bad” list, one that could indeed cause major issues for an email service provider like Boomerang. And since we can’t be sure how clean and well-researched a list rental is until it’s already out there, that’s a risk that we cannot afford to take.

  5. Howard Sewell

    Chris – thanks for your comment and for clarifying your position. I can understand completely how Boomerang doesn’t want to put its well-earned reputation at the mercy of whatever list is handed to it by its clients. Most if not all rented lists that we utilize on behalf of our clients are broadcast only by the list owner (typically a publisher), which eliminates any such issue for us.


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