THE EMAIL ADVOCATE: HGH—It's Not Just a Baseball Problem

From the eec's Marketing RoundtablesEarlier this month a federal judge ordered a Las Vegas-based company to pay a whopping $2.5 million fine for making false advertising claims and sending illegal email messages in violation of the FTC Act and the CAN-SPAM Act. The company was sending unsolicited email to people promoting human growth hormone (HGH) related drugs (you know, the stuff that Roger Clemens never took).

The judge found that the defendants violated the FTC Act (which outlaws fraudulent and deceptive business practices) because their ads falsely claim that the drugs cause rapid, substantial and permanent weight loss, in addition to having anti-aging qualities.

But what makes the case most interesting for our Roundtable’s members, of course, is the CAN-SPAM component. The violations cited by the FTC are very basic; they’re not “high-tech” offenses such as using open relays or forged headers to physically distribute spam. What this particular company got hit for was, in large part, three very simple CAN-SPAM violations: (1) using misleading subject lines; (2) not including a valid postal address in their emails; and (3) not including—or facilitating—opt-out functionality.

So for anyone who ever doubted that the CAN-SPAM Act had “teeth,” make no mistake about it: The FTC can and will make use of the full scope of CAN-SPAM to bring cases against offenders, and it ain’t hard to do so.

Our advice: Never overlook the basics. Check, check and check again to make sure that your email programs are 100% compliant. Make sure strict governance and procedures are in place. Because all it takes is one untrained new email marketing associate to click “send” without including a postal address and the FTC will come knocking on your door.

You can wag your finger at the camera and claim “misremembrance” all you want, but regardless of whether you’re pushing HGH in baseball locker-rooms or email inboxes, no one’s going to believe you.

—eec Advocacy Roundtable co-chairs Jordan Cohen of Epsilon and Robb Walters of Costco

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