The Boy Who Cried Wolf

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, the volume of email spam is growing, although fewer people say it’s a “big problem” for them. The study found, however, that:

Spam continues to degrade the integrity of email. 55% of email users have lost trust in email because of spam.”

My take: The “lost trust” claim is a case of over-reacting.

Did consumers “lose trust” in mail because of direct mail? Did we “lose trust” in the telephone because of telemarketing? Did we “lose trust” in the television when advertising cut 30-minute programs down to 23 minutes? Are we losing trust in the mobile channel with the advent of cellphone advertising? No.

Arguably, spam has impacted the effectiveness of email as a marketing tool. But that’s not what the study is reporting — it’s looking at the consumer’s perspective. And they could care less if it’s an effective marketing channel.

What we need here is context:

  • Has email lost trust relative to other communication channels?
  • Has this lost trust resulted in behavioral changes?
  • Are the 55% different (demographically, behaviorally) from the 45%?

The Pew study found, in fact, that the percentage of Internet users using email in 2007 was unchanged from the 2003 level. And that the percentage of email users who said that spam made them less trusting of mail declined from a high of 62% in 2004.

Email’s loss of integrity? Just a case of the Pew who cried wolf.

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