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What is Spam?

Written by George Manty  · August 6, 2008

I am going to start of by answering the question “What is spam?” and then I am going to talk to you about a disturbing a trend on the web related to the definition of spam.

Here is the ORIGINAL definition of spam:

“Unsolicited email”

Simply stated spam is email you receive from someone that you have never agreed to receive from them.

How is the definition of spam changing?

In the first chapter of Sylvie Fortin’s ebook, “Internet Marketing Sins”, Sylvie discussed a recent report by Marketing trends about spam. Apparently the definition of spam is changing…

According to the report:

Most consumers don’t accurately comprehend the term “spam”:

  • Over half of survey participants – 56% – consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is “just not interesting to me.”

  • 50% of respondents consider “too frequent emails from companies I know” to be spam.

  • 31% cite “emails that were once useful but aren’t relevant anymore.”

Regarding the use of the “report spam” button – the primary tool that internet service providers (ISPs) provide consumers to counter spam – nearly half of respondents (48%) provided a reason other than “did not sign up for email” for reporting an email as spam.

Respondents cited various non-permission-based reasons for hitting the spam button:

  • “The email was not of interest to me” (41%).

  • “I receive too much email from the sender” (25%).

  • “I receive too much email from all senders” (20%).

When I first read the above survey, I was TOTALLY shocked!

Apparently, people are EXTREMELY misinformed on the meaning spam. I occasionally have people unsubscribe from my newsletter who cite the reason for leaving as “spam”. I am always dumbfounded by that response. I mean seriously…

If you sign up for a newsletter and you get the newsletter the only way you can legitimately call it spam is if you don’t know the definition of spam.

Long story short, the Internet is becoming more and more challenging for marketers. If double opt-in newsletters are being called spam, what’s next? Will blogging of any sort be called spam? Will all advertising messages be called spam? It wouldn’t surprise me at all… would it surprise you?

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5 Responses to “What is Spam?”

  1. Sophie on August 8th, 2008 4:59 am

    In my opinion it is just careless usage of language and nothing to worry about. As long as the law has the correct definition of spam, what does it matter?

  2. George Manty on August 8th, 2008 6:52 am


    The problem is that people are marking things as spam when they aren’t spam. People are more and more turned off by email advertising, whether it is spam or not and that is going to make life harder on Internet marketers.

    However, it is good that the law has it right.

  3. Mark Webb on August 8th, 2008 3:05 pm

    I am not suprised. People are so frustrated by email advertising and therefore consider almost everything they don’t like as spam.

  4. Ami on August 11th, 2008 1:13 pm

    In the absence of another word, spam has grown to represent almost all internet related trickery.

    There are terms like phishing which because of the existence of this term, we do not refer to that particular activity as spam [or maybe some do]

    But for activities like forum ‘spamming’ the use of the word spam is just easier than ‘the unscrupulous use of forums just to get a link’
    What a mouthful

  5. George Manty on August 11th, 2008 5:03 pm


    Very true. I mainly have a problem with calling email sent from a list that you double opted-in for, to be spam.