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Why we don’t support list purchasing

As a marketing agency, our primary goal at Exothermic is to help spread the word for our partners who pay us money to do so. We are a business and we are impacted by our bottom line.

But our mission is to provide marketing for organizations that, at the end of the day, better people’s lives. Organizations that enable self-reliance.

Some marketing is unethical and even borders on the line of being illegal. In order to stick with our goal of bettering people’s lives and do work that helps us and others sleep better at night, there are marketing tactics we refuse to engage in.

Retargeting is one of them because at the end of the day, it may be a very effective marketing tactic but it is eroding a brand’s image within the self-reliance space.

Another tactic is list purchasing.

What is list purchasing?

List purchasing is the act of buying (or “renting”) email addresses with specific qualities that match your target market.

Essentially, as a business you can buy up a list of email addresses for 1,000 gardeners in New Hampshire over the age of 50 or 100,000 millennials in Seattle.

Sounds great, right?

Wait, you sound sarcastic. Why is it not great?

Let’s think about this for a minute – when you’re purchasing email addresses, you’re purchasing them for a specific demographic, right? People who haven’t heard of you so you can message them and they can theoretically become new customers.

This means that they have not opted in for your emails. They’ve never given permission to receive your messages. Which means hey, when you email them for the first time, they’re going to be super likely to really appreciate your message? Right?


Think about your own reaction as a consumer. We’ve all had our email addresses signed up for lists we didn’t want. You get annoyed, you feel disgust, you mark it as spam. All things that affect that business’ deliverability ratings. Check out MailChimp’s charts on the matter (and why if you buy a list and use it through MailChimp, they will shut down your account).

And that’s just the start

While the CAN SPAM Act of 2003 doesn’t state that purchasing a list is illegal, they do mention it’s a very bad idea and have summed it up here:

I bought a list of email addresses for people likely to be interested in my niche product. If I comply with the commercial email requirements of CAN-SPAM, do I have anything to worry about?

CHRISTOPHER: The CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t require initiators of commercial email to get recipients’ consent before sending them commercial email. In other words, there is no opt-in requirement. So in general, as long as you follow the “initiator” requirements of the Act, you can send email until the recipient asks to opt out. But buying lists like that can be risky. There is the possibility that addresses on the list belong to people who have already opted out of receiving email from your company. And there’s a risk that the list was put together using illegal means like address harvesting or dictionary attacks. Therefore, some companies choose to send marketing email only to people who have affirmatively asked to receive them or with whom the company already has a business relationship.

There’s two more strikes against list purchasing: you may be violating people’s earlier requests to opt-out and you may also be sending to email addresses gathered illegally.

But there’s also deliverability issues

Email list providers don’t do a great job with data hygiene. And it’s not necessarily their fault. If you’re scraping thousands of email addresses and claiming that say, these 500 are executives in the restaurant space in the US for businesses making over $2 million annually – executives end up moving around. A lot. What might be an accurate list today may have 2 email addresses that are inactive tomorrow due to people changing jobs or companies.

And the longer that goes on, the more inaccurate it might be. Not to mention the email list providers who are knowingly selling bogus emails to marketers who are trying to take shortcuts and circumvent permission.

So if you’re sending emails to 100,000 new potential customers and 80,000 of them bounce, you may be liable to be fired by your email provider (your reputation affects their deliverability ratings) and in other situations, domain names have been flat-out revoked.

Marking things as spam is a very powerful tool for being heard in this day and age.

And there’s the foreigners

You may end up purchasing email addresses for people who are not in the US. Other countries have stricter email marketing rules than the US does. Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) states that “penalties for the most serious violations of the Act can go as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses.”

It requires more explicit opt-in consent than the CAN SPAM Act and when you’re purchasing a list, there’s no guarantee that all of the recipients are based in the US.

Grow your list deliberately and with permission

Buying purchased email lists is a manipulative marketing practice and it also has a lousy ROI.

Grow your list deliberately, get permission and try to build useful relationships with your existing and potential customers. It takes longer but it is worth it. Quality is worth more than quantity when it comes to the success of email marketing campaigns.

Give your customers a way to state that they’re interested in your brand or your products or services – things like entry and exit pop-up modals are typically a good approach (so long as they’re done respectfully and people are allowed to close out). Sign-up forms on your site. Offering deals through your email marketing that your customers can’t get anywhere else.

There are other means to an end and long story short, if you’re thinking of purchasing an email list, you’ll need to find some other agency to help you do so. We will not perpetuate this tactic at Exothermic with our partners.

Unlike the agencies working with National Geographic, Dell, Adobe and more who are spending money to buy the email addresses of strangers who have not knowingly agreed to have their information sold through companies like ExactData:


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