Email interruptus

Your email could soon be intercepted and wrapped with advertising, thanksto a Melbourne marketing firm.

SYDNEY (ZDNet Australia)--Internet users may soon have to contend with a new form of spam that turns their private email correspondence into a billboard for online advertisers.

Melbourne-based online marketing company, Reva Networks, is currently promoting a new email technology--Admail--that allows online advertisers to intercept email messages as they enter the mail server and “wrap” them in advertising content tailored to the recipient's demographic profile.

Unlike conventional unsoliciated email, where advertising arrives in the users’ inbox as separate email, Admail fuses advertising with the body message regardless of its origin.

Robert Pickup, Revo Networks CEO, says the company’s partners and customers include both conventional ISP-based POP email services and free Web-based email services that generate revenue through advertising. “We’re in discussions with many ISPs and advertisers, he said. “It’s fair to say that interest has been very strong.”

Pickup says that Admail has proven itself to be more effective than other forms of online advertising.

"Because the advertising is embedded within a regular email and not a separate email message from an advertiser, users are more likely to open the message and hence be exposed to the advertising offer," he said.

Even though the advertising content may hitch a ride with mail traffic generated by paying subscribers they’re not assured of having the choice to filter the additional content. “That is up to the ISP or the partner but an opt-out function is likely to be provided in that case,” said Pickup.

David Bather, Public Relations manager for Ozemail, warns that online marketers need to be highly circumspect about the privacy concerns of the consumer with email-based strategies. Reflecting on the ISP’s experience in the field he said, “we’ve always been very aware of the rights of the consumer. Something like this would have to be scrutinised very carefully. I think it’s important to give consumers an opt-out function”.

Charles Britton, IT policy officer for the Australian Consumer Association, is critical of any electronic advertising that places consumers in a reactive position. “We’d rather see an opt-in than an opt-out” he said, speaking on behalf of the association.

Pickup doesn’t believe that consumer ire will hinder the success of the technology. According to the company’s research, consumers aren’t angered by email advertising “as long as its relevant to them”. Referring to results of early trials of the technology, which did not provoke any feedback from email users, he said “it’s obviously not upsetting people in any way”.

Britton doesn’t believe that consumers will passively accept the new form of online advertising. “Without some incentive, why would you want advertising in your email?” he said.

Observing the negative reception that spam receives from the Internet community, Britton believes that advertisers may ultimately decide the fate of the technology. “Advertisers are reluctant to be associated with anything that irritates consumers,” he said. “There’s not many successful business models based on annoying people.”