David Fowler_Digital Insights

I’m not one for getting all political in my musings, however there’s so much activity in politics that it offers a window into all kinds of marketing practices. A political race is, after all, to a great degree a branding exercise, dependent on brand awareness and trust, and reliant on paid, earned, and owned media. And sometimes, on occasion, a politician hands you a wonderful example that underscores what NOT to do.

Here’s one that will resonate with all email marketers: A complaint has been filed (June 29, 2016) with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) that alleges that Donald Trump been sending campaign fund-raising emails to foreign elected officials. Two points:

  • Accepting campaign donations from foreign citizens is forbidden in accordance with US federal election law.
  • It is also against US campaign finance law to knowingly solicit donations from those who are foreigners.

Evidently foreign diplomats from Britain, Australia, Canada, Iceland, and Scotland have received fund-raising email solicitations from the Trump campaign. You know this means those email addresses had foreign email domain names (such as .uk), so it’s unlikely that anyone cleaned those lists with an eye to how the lists would be used.

Tim Watts, Australian MP (Member of Parliament) on receiving emails from the Trump campaign.

Tim Watts, Australian MP (Member of Parliament) on receiving emails from the Trump campaign.

If I were advising a political candidate (any political candidate) on the appropriate behavior when purchasing list data, this would be it, in four words:


As you can see from the rookie mistake the Trump campaign made – an obvious list purchase, with no list cleansing – the outcome is a foregone (unhappy) conclusion. (Full disclosure: I am neither for or against the Trump candidacy. But I am firmly against sloppy email campaigns, and this is a glaring example.)

Here’s the issue: Batch and blast a bought list; that’s so 2003.

Beyond the risk of breaking international laws with a poor quality list, this is a sharp-focus illustration of the most common problem with buying lists:

People who don’t expect your email may not like receiving it.

That dislike could range from mild irritation to extreme disgust, and could get your email marked as spam. That, in turn, will harm your deliverability – possibly even to people who did opt in the receive your commercial email.

Predictably, the Trump camp encountered some negative feedback from the recipients on their purchased list.

One example: As the BBC, Daily Kos and others report:

‘Conservative MP [Member of Parliament] Sir Roger Gale calls for Donald Trump campaign emails to be blocked on the House of Commons email system.

‘Sir Roger raises a point of order to complain that many MPs have been “bombarded with emails from Team Trump on the behalf of someone called Donald Trump”.

‘While he is in “all in favour of free speech” he does not wish to be “subject to intemperate spam”, adding that “efforts to have these deleted have failed”.’

Another example: English MP Natalie McGarry posted the email the Trump camp sent her on her Twitter feed:

English MP Natalie McGarry posted the email the Trump camp sent her  on her Twitter feed.

How to mitigate the damage from buying an email list

Now, with a few simple steps the Trump team could have ensured some levels of oversight pertaining to their investment:

  1. Don’t buy the list in the first place – that’s an outdated tactic
  2. Cleaned and validated the data via a data analytical organization
  3. Had the campaign research and apply email compliance initiatives to their campaign
  4. Did I mention not to have purchased the data in the first place?

It’s easy to point fingers at the Trump campaign about their practices, but the reality is … they didn’t do anything illegal in the purchasing or rental of that data.

It’s a known fact that data acquisition (I am officially retiring the word “list”) in 2016 is a risky and problematic business practice. The receiver community especially frowns upon this activity, for the right reasons. Sending to unwilling names that have been questionably acquired will – and should – affect your ability to send mail. (You also often paying for garbage names, spam traps, etc.) A report published in Advertising Age estimates that nearly 60% of Trump’s first-ever fundraiser emails were tagged as spam and automatically relegated to recipients’ spam folders. That spells serious trouble for any more campaigns sent from that IP address.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the case of Mr. Trump’s email fundraising program, as he’s attracted the attention of the law-enforcing Federal Electoral Commission, not to mention irritated diplomats of the Commonwealth and what remains of the United Kingdom – people he might need to work with some day, if his campaign is successful.

There’s a reason why .gov addresses are exempt from the CAN-SPAM act. Stay local, Mr. Trump.