Gmail: Are those ads or spam?

In a weird turn of fate, we’ve crossed into an alternate reality where the opinions of some are that the new ads being displayed in the new Gmail Tabs are spam and I simply can’t bring myself to call them spam. I see these messages are clearly ads just in a new format for consumption by both the marketing and consumer world.

For example, the ads have some similar functions to email, but some very key differences as well that put my opinions at odds with others. The take by deliverability.com seems to be that Google has found a “neener neener technical loophole” (their words not mine) to deliver unsolicited email-like ads to users inboxes… Google’s Flagrant Violation of the CAN-SPAM Act.

gmail ads

Image source: http://blog.deliverability.com/

Here are some of my reasons for formulating my opinion of “not spam” in the ads vs. email spam argument:

  • What’s an email?
    The key items that make up an email (according to the Wikipedia and the internet RFCs): “An Internet email message consists of three components, the message envelope, the message header, and the message body.” Reviewing the ads in the gmail promotions tabs we see a distinct lack of two of these three items – there is no message envelope, and no message header to be found, just a body portion (that is really a web page).
  • Distribution: The delivery, presentation and targeting methods are based on the keyword integrations of an ad network, not the permission based targeting of a well run email program.
  • Appearance: The Ads are clearly differentiated from the normal promotional emails that gmail users receive; they have a yellow background, multi-lined presentation, there is no date-time stamp, but they do have a ‘close this ad’ option (X), displayed in normal text (not bold), and they display an “Ad” notice under the marketers brand name.

    I agree there are some similar appearances in regards to size and placement of the ads, for example, the ability to forward them as an email (note: My opinion is they don’t start as an email, they are ads and can be forwarded from one individual to another, thus making them not subject to CAN-SPAM)

The two key items that apparently were left out of the article on Deliverability.com are that;

  • CAN-SPAM deals only with Email/SMS and not ad serving. So really, CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply to these advertisements.
  • The ads do not meet the required definition of an email according to the internet standards and common definition of “What is an email?”

What will the future hold for the new Gmail ads?

I’m not one to predict the future (I’ve been wrong many times before) but Gmail, and Google in general, have a continual testing cycle for their products… this ad product will be no different, it will either be successful and continue, or will fail due to a lack of adoption and use by their advertisers and/or negative interaction from their members.

Perhaps enough ad buyers will complain about them, or the FTC will amend or update CAN-SPAM to deal with deceptive advertising on the web (not likely), or maybe another piece of legislation will be put forth to deal with these types of situations (again, not likely). Remember, any type of legislative approach take a very long long time to come to fruition (for example, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law, CASL). It is far more likely the market will determine this outcome.

My vote on this – Not Spam.

Do you agree or disagree – Spam or Not Spam? Share your take on these ads in the comments below.

Author: Matthew Vernhout

Author, CPO, Digital Marketing & Privacy Advocate, Gamer Founder of EmailKarma.net and FeedYourConsole.com

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