Putting Spam Inside Your Email: SpEmail?

By | March 1, 2005

Here’s a novel way to get advertising into email without calling it spam: RelevantMail. RelevantMail, from a company called RelevantAds, inserts contextual ads into emails very much as Gmail does. Only the folk doing the inserting are your ISP:

RelevantMail provides a new high quality way to distribute advertisements to consumers while providing a much needed revenue stream to email providers. Email is a very effective medium for advertising with the capability of high conversion rates. However, existing techniques of marketing through email have a high user rejection rate due to the disruption of the normal workflow of reading their email. Additionally, existing email marketing strategies suffer from the lack of relevancy and timeliness. RelevantMail addresses all these problems and provides it as a benefit to the end user instead of a hindrance .

These ‘contextual ads’ would appear as links at the bottom of emails. Say you wrote to a friend about your upcoming trip to Vegas, or your new BBQ grill, or your uncomfortable hemorrhoids problem, your email would include links to products or services somehow connected to casinos, BBQ sauce or cushions. The economic aspect of this is the idea is that ISPs bleeding from having to provide virus checking, spam filtering and other services to users can turn a profit cost into a profit centre.

I am, of course, skeptical. RelevantAds suggests that it is focusing on privacy: The entire system is automated and at no time are emails read by human eyes. Moreover, we are intentionally separate from email service providers and do not store any information on emails. In other words, our engine never receives information as to who sent or received the email message. It only receives the text of the email itself. And the company say the ads are not particularly intrusive. The screenshot seems to bear this out, in that the ads are just text links that appear at the bottom of the message.

But I think users might be a bit freaked out by seeing their emails combed for possible ad-related subject material. It’s one thing to put ads alongside web-based email where it’s clearly not part of the body. But inside an email that arrives in your inbox? And how will those same recipients feel if they find out that their emails to you are also being added to in this way?

But to me the biggest drawback is the impact on spam-filters. Are emails which once would have sailed through a spam-filter now likely to be caught? How are recipients going to feel if emails to them arrive with links inserted at the bottom And if we alter our settings to allow them through, are spammers not going to capitalise on this to make their spam look similar?

I can quite understand the need to explore opportunities to turn an honest buck or two. But I’m not convinced email, already on its last legs, is the place to do it.

But there’s an interesting link here that may prove me wrong. One of the people behind RelevantAds is David Rodecker, who is also involved in Mail2World, a company that hosts email and other messaging services (think SMS and things like that) on behalf of customers (ICQ was a recent sign-up. Last November it started offering users two gigabytes of storage and some other bundled features for a small fee.)

It’s not clear from the press release whether there’s a link between these two companies (and I suppose it’s possible they’re not the same guy). But if there is a link I guess the broader vision here is one where ISPs, companies, vendors or pretty much anybody could outsource their email to a company like Mail2World, who would in turn offer the option of including RelevantAds as a way for the customer to defray the cost. An interesting vision, but I stick with my view that email is already a stumbling beast. But clearly not everyone agrees. In an edition of CNBC’s World Business Review last June, where Rodecker appeared, host Alexander Haig sang email’s praises: “Those who are seeking ways to tap into the potential of e-mail,” he said on the show, “will find themselves in a position to capitalize on the pending explosion in Internet usage.”

3 thoughts on “Putting Spam Inside Your Email: SpEmail?

  1. wicak

    hmm, dunno how much you cut it up, spam is still spam… I being the recipient of the e-mail did not ask for the advertising?
    and if it is “relevancy advertising” then someone or something knows what my very private e-mail is talking about. at least the have access to the statistics. user X likes to talk about manga comics waaay too much.
    privacy? hmmm….

    i’d really hate for that to happen, coz its going to be just another reason for ISP’s to say, “due to rising costs we have decided to subsidise your service with this new adware. otherwise pay $100 for your internet service”

    then the digital divide will come back with a vengeance.
    i hope i spelled that right…

  2. Brian Schmidt


    You are correct that David Rodecker used to work with us at Mail2World. However, David is no longer associated with Mail2World and he isn’t affiliated/ associated with Mail2World in any capacity. We wish him the best at RelevantAds, but RelevantAds isn’t afilifated with Mail2World.

    With regards to contextual ads, Mail2World is planning to offer a contextual ads service shortly that is on-demand, real-time for read messages. In addition, all junk mail will be already filtered to the Junk Mail folder and the ads will not be displayed if the user opens/ reads any of his junk messages. Though Mail2World’s contextual ads will be placed on the side by default – just like Gmail’s ads – the user will also have the option to place the ads either on the side or at the bottom of the message.

    Thanks Jeremy for your interesting veiws in your blog – it’s always a good read.

    Brian Schmidt
    VP Sales and Business Development

  3. Mike Regan

    Hi Jeremy,

    I find myself reading your comments with interest. Your views regarding contextual ads i believe hold water when referring to business email, however i think the jury is still out with regards to acceptance of ad technology in personal email services. On-demand is a vital feature, and from ITZoom’s perspective we’re watching the various ad initiatives with interest but also from a distance at present.

    I am also curious about your view that email itself is on its ‘last legs’. True new technologies are emerging, however email is still entrenched as the messaging solution of choice for the vast majority, and will remain so for some time to come. It would be interesting to hear your views on how you see technology evolving in such a way that email becomes redundant.

    In terms of benefit from email solutions there are also other ways to provide value-add. ITZoom for example offers users the ability to promote their individual skills and expertise as an inherent function of their email system and, if desired, to utilise this benefit without necessarily having to move away from their existing email service.
    Whilst providers continue to offer new or unique features then the product (in this case email) will continue to interest and remain attractive to its market.

    I too find your blog of interest and thanks for the opportunity to post a reply.

    Michael Regan.
    Customer Relations Manager.
    ITZoom: email for IT Professionals.


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