The commission's rule applies only to messages sent without 'prior affirmative consent.'
Unsolicited email containing sexually oriented material must carry the warning "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:" in the subject line after May 19, according to a new rule issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The rule is aimed at helping consumers filter out messages they aren't interested in receiving. It's also meant to shield them from viewing offensive material, should they accidentally open the message.
The second aim is why such messages must also employ the electronic equivalent of a "plain brown wrapper." That means that people opening the message should immediately see only the warning, and other required information written in ASCII text -- not in an image file. Recipients would then have to scroll down or click on a link to see the message and any images contained therein.
The "wrapper" concept may prove a difficult one in practice, because of the different ways email clients display messages. The FTC acknowledged potential difficulties.
"Nevertheless, an initiator of sexually oriented emails is not without tools to ensure the 'initially viewable' portion of an email message does not force the recipient to be confronted with offensive and objectionable material," the FTC document says.
Required information in the "wrapper" includes the "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:" warning; notice that the message is a solicitation or ad; opt-out information; a physical address; and instructions on how to access the sexually oriented information.
The requirements don't apply if someone has given "prior affirmative consent" to receive such messages.
The decision is the first the FTC has unveiled since it began considering how to implement the CAN-SPAM Act, passed by Congress and signed into law late last year.
The commission has also sought comments on the Do-Not-E-Mail provisions of the law, and is preparing a report with recommendations. The deadline for public comment on other parts of the law was recently extended to April 20, after several trade organizations requested more time.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Hong Kong, May 5-6, 2015
Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.
Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.
May 6, 2015
12:00pm ET/9:00am PT