Virtual Junk: On-Line Ads Invade `Net

By Jim Erickson= Seattle Post-Intelligencer | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Virtual Junk: On-Line Ads Invade `Net


Jim Erickson= Seattle Post-Intelligencer, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


"PREVENT FAT ABSORPTION with a new product that has a positive charge and attracts and binds fatty acid. . . ."

"GET OUT OF DEBT!! Be debt-free for as little as $30.00 per month. For free details send name and address to. . . ."

"MEET SOMEONE SPECIAL IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES! The fun, easy and anonymous way to end lonely nights. . . ." The preceding announcements were not gleaned from tabloid newspapers. They came from Cyberspace. Junk mail, junk electronic mail, in fact, delivered unbidden over the most popular computer on-line service, America Online.

Direct-mail solicitors have discovered the Internet and the on-line world of electronic commerce. The chance that one's e-mailbox will remain a pristine file for personal communications has passed.

The advent of junk e-mail is raising privacy questions among consumer advocates and government regulators alike. It's also prompting a larger concern that electronic marketing will give advertisers powerful new ways to find out details about individual buying habits and lives.

No one has measured the growth of unsolicited direct mail over the Internet, but it appears to be on the increase.

Drawn by the global reach of the Internet, the commercialization of the World Wide Web and the growing number of consumers going on-line, direct-mail marketers foresee an unprecedented opportunity to reach millions of people while drastically reducing their advertising costs.

According to an as-yet unpublished survey sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group, more than half of direct marketers are now using the Internet and Web to get their messages out and 48 percent are mining the membership rosters of major computer online services for e-mail addresses.

The reasons are obvious. Cyberspace can now deliver a mass audience, usually for much less than traditional forms of advertising. More than 50 million people are using e-mail today, and an estimated 30 million use the World Wide Web.

"On the Internet, you can make vast amounts of content available at small marginal costs," said Cliff Kurtzman, founder of a Texas Internet marketing firm.

"We've only just begun to see the marketing applications of e-mail," said Rich LeFurgy, vice president of advertising and marketing at Bellevue, Wash.-based Starwave, a leading Web site operator.

"It can be a very powerful tool," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people are abusing it."

The most infamous abuses stem from a practice called "spamming," whereby a direct marketer joins an Internet news group (an on-line collection of individuals who share commentary and observations) in order to blindly send electronic ad messages to every member of the group.

Internet denizens, accustomed to a noncommercial network, have reacted furiously to spammers, usually with liberal flame mail and by deluging the marketer's mailbox or his Internet service provider with messages in an attempt to overload the system.

The threat of vengeance may keep spamming in check, but Web marketers a re devising alternative and increasingly sophisticated ways to use the medium, including "robot" software that automatically harvests e-mail addresses where they are posted publicly.

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The addresses are not hard to get. Many computer users reveal them willingly when asked to register to gain access to Web sites. …

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