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Spam a friend for Dubya! Bush campaign mounts email assault

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A strangely spamlike viral marketing campaign is being cranked-up in support of George W Bush's campaign for the US presidency. We use the term "spamlike" advisedly; as we all know, spamming is what other people do, we do permissions-based email marketing, right? But The Register does have evidence that ClickAction, running the RNC (Republican National Committee) eChampions campaign, has at least been a little careless about the people it puts onto its mail list, and it's clearly aiming to get a massive 'spam a friend' campaign going for Dubya.

The Register runs a number of different email addresses which we are able to use for investigative and monitoring purposes. One of these (no, we're not giving details, we want to keep watching ClickAction) recently received an unsolicited email sent by ClickAction on behalf of the RNC announcing that we had been selected as an eChampion.

An impressive accolade, particularly as the made up 'personality' associated with the targeted email is one of our more genuine ones. It's for a UK citizen working in publishing in London, and it's even on a .co.uk domain. Clearly its owner isn't eligible to vote in the presidentials, and most assuredly isn't registered to. ClickAction claims it "sets the standard for permission-based email marketing," but when did we give it permission to select John Doe as an eChampion, and to decide: "Bi-weekly you will receive a fact-based email on one or more of the critical issues in this election"?

The message simply reinforces the fact that the the 2000 election has been a spam disaster waiting to happen. "Experts estimate that 50-60 per cent of the 103 million voters on Nov. 7 will receive 'some' or 'most' of their campaign information from online sources. As an eChampion, you will rest assured that your friends, neighbors and family have access to the best information, so they can make the best decision in November."

That gives the email marketeers a potential online target audience of approximately 60 million, and a very short time to recruit it. A lot of people will be getting their election news from the Internet, but what we really want is for them to get it direct from the campaign, by email, so the message doesn't get fuzzed by those pesky media, right? As the eChampions email says, "the Internet gives us the opportunity to spread quickly and directly, without media bias, the truth about the upcoming election to our friends, neighbors and family members."

This is where the viral marketing aspect comes in. From the point of view of the "permissions-based email marketing" industry, viral marketing is great, because you can encourage people who (mostly) have given you permission to hassle them to spam all their friends, and you're innocent (sort of).

Here's how ClickAction is running it for the RNC:

"FORWARD MESSAGES - Your job as an eChampion is to pass that information along via e-mail to the people you know at work, in your neighborhood, at your church or synagogue, at your school, in your family and in your circle of friends. And feel free to include your own thoughts.

"INVITE YOUR FRIENDS - It is also critical that you invite your conservative friends to become eChampions themselves. All they have to do is go to http://www.echampions2000.com and sign up. Takes about 30 seconds. That’s it! Feel free to send them an invitation now! Just copy and paste the following section of this email and send it to as many friends as possible!" (our emphasis)

There's an opt-out at the bottom of the message, which is signed by RNC chairman Jim Nicholson. According to the RNC eChampions privacy policy: "The RNC will not sell your email address or other personal information to an outside, un-affiliated organization or any unauthorized third parties... All signups for email communications and other features of our Web site are voluntary. We give you the opportunity to opt-in and we give you the power to opt-out of email communications." Ahem? ®

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