Email Marketing, Part III: Canada Cracks Down on Commercial Messaging

email, spam, can-spam, casl, canada

Picture this scenario: You send out an email to your subscribers offering a deal, announcing a new service or just sharing your thoughts on the medibeauty issues of the day. You do so because you know it’s a great way to engage with interested consumers and, hopefully, generate subsequent business.

What you may not know is that, if any of those subscribers live in Canada (or use a Canada-based email address), it could also cost you big bucks. As of today, July 1, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) goes into effect, meaning that any business that sends commercial emails to Canadian citizens without their consent could be liable for fines of up to $10 million.

We’re not just talking about ads for Viagra or singles-dating sites, either. The new law covers legitimate marketing messages that subscribers may actually want to see and it applies whether you’re based in Manhattan or Montreal, Toledo or Toronto, Seattle or Saskatoon.

In a nutshell, the new law requires that companies get people’s consent to send them commercial messages. As such, it’s an opt-in approach that stands in marked contrast to U.S. regulations (called CAN-SPAM) that simply require companies to provide recipients with the ability to opt out.

In fact, if you work with Canadian companies, receive marketing messages from them or even shop from Canadian-based websites, you may already have seen messages in your own inbox as those senders work to ensure they’re in compliance with the new regulations. Working with your own Email Service Provider (ESP), here’s what you can do to ensure you are too:

Be real: When requesting consent, specify why you’re requesting it (e.g., we’d like to send you our monthly newsletter) and include accurate contact information, including your name, phone number and other identifying information.

Get permission: The easiest way to comply with the new rule is to send a message asking subscribers to “opt in,” for example, by clicking on a “Yes, I want to receive your emails” link. You’ll likely lose a portion of your subscribers but those who remain will constitute your most engaged and likely-to-convert readers.

Let them go: Both your “seeking consent” email and subsequent messages need to include a simple mechanism (e.g., a link) that allows subscribers to opt out immediately.

Segment your subscriber list: If your list is large enough, segmenting it so that certain messages only go to certain subscribers, may be worthwhile. It’s a more involved approach, which, if appropriate, will probably entail working your ESP.

Finally, note that there are exceptions to the new law regarding situations in which you already have a business relationship with a subscriber or they’ve made a previous inquiry about your products or services. However, the rules on the subject are open to interpretation and the burden of proving such a relationship typically lies with the sender, a generally unpleasant and potentially costly approach. And, finally, since none of the above constitutes legal advice, consult counsel before proceeding.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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