News and tips from the industry leaders in email compliance.

I bet you were just thinking that what you’re missing from your daily routine is a good old history lesson. Something to take you right back to when you were in school, which may be a longer trip for some of us than others, LOL. Today, let’s step into the wayback machine and look into the history and evolution of the Suppression List. 

What is a Suppression List?

At its simplest, in marketing, a Suppression List is made up of people/companies/groups/etc. that are to be removed from a marketing campaign. The reasons behind the removal could be that they have opted out from receiving marketing messaging, or that they are in a group that a company does not want to send a particular marketing message to for various reasons (not sending an acquisition offer to current customers, etc.).

Suppression Lists go back to the early days of offline marketing (like direct mail), but for the purposes of our history lesson, we’re going to move forward in time a bit and look at the email channel in particular.

(To learn more about Suppression Lists and their uses, check out our other article HERE)

Early 1990s: Commercial Email’s Uprising

Although not the beginning of email, our look back starts with the transition from email being primarily used for academic and government networks to having a bigger role in commercial and marketing uses. While the first marketing email went out in the late 1970s, it was really the 1990s when the concept of email marketing began to take off. As more consumers had home computers with internet connectivity, email became a way for companies to connect with their customers. During this time, businesses began collecting email addresses to send product updates, newsletters, and promotions. Today, this era is looked on as the Wild West days for the industry, when few laws or regulations constrained how marketers could use this emerging channel. 

2003: The CAN-SPAM Act

Fast-forward one decade later, and the U.S. passed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act, or as we’ve all come to know it, the CAN-SPAM Act. This followed a period when individual states were passing new laws to regulate email marketing, creating a difficult landscape for marketers to navigate while remaining compliant. Consumers complained about the amount of unwanted email (i.e. spam) they were receiving and internet service providers (ISPs) were concerned about the costs of delivering all this content to consumers through what we would now consider incredibly low bandwidth provided by the dial-up technology of the day.

The CAN-SPAM Act was created to provide a uniform set of rules for companies to send email to consumers in all 50 states. Among the most important aspects of the law was mandating the inclusion of an opt-out mechanism, allowing recipients to unsubscribe from future marketing (i.e. commercial) email campaigns from a company. This made the Suppression List an essential part of complying with the new federal law.

(For a full breakdown of all the CAN-SPAM regulations, check out our other article HERE.)

2004-2005: The Increasing Use of Email Marketing

As email marketers adapted to the new guidelines imposed by CAN-SPAM, the industry began to really hit its stride, becoming one of the most reliable, cost-effective marketing channels to ever exist. Businesses of all sizes rapidly adopted email marketing, leading to a surge in email of all kinds – opt-in and unsolicited. As email marketing programs grew in size and complexity, so too did every company’s Suppression List, since once someone opts out of receiving future email marketing campaigns from a company, that name remains on the list forever (unless they specifically opt back in).

2009: OPTIZMO Technologies is Launched

Identifying a need in the industry for a fast, intuitive platform that supports a fresh, innovative approach to email suppression list management and email compliance, OPTIZMO was launched by co-founders Khris Thayer and Grant Fern. The company’s position as an independent SaaS platform for suppression list management that could automate the collection, storage, and distribution of email suppression lists quickly set it apart from competitors in the industry. 

2018: GDPR and Its Impact

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect, having a global impact on email marketing practices, including those of U.S. companies marketing to EU citizens. Even though GDPR is a European regulation, it elevated the importance of consent, data privacy, and the right to be forgotten, influencing U.S. marketers to adopt stricter practices to ensure European consumers had an easy way to opt out from future marketing initiatives, including email.

2020s: Increasing Focus on Privacy and Consent

Advances in technology and the rising public concern over who has access to consumers’ personal data push states to begin passing data privacy laws (e.g., the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)). While these laws are not focused on email marketing specifically, they have a wide-ranging impact across all marketing channels and the ways that companies collect and leverage consumer data. The Suppression Lists continue to be key to companies ensuring that consumers who have opted out are removed from future email campaigns. 

2024 & Beyond

Email marketing continues to stand as a cornerstone of business communication tools, with an increased emphasis on personalization, user consent, and privacy. The landscape of email marketing has undeniably evolved, and at the heart of its current transformation is the growing integration of AI and machine learning. These innovations have started to play a significant role in refining the efficiency and effectiveness of email campaigns, offering predictive analytics to tailor campaigns more closely to individual preferences and behaviors. These technologies have brought a larger spotlight onto the marketing industry and how it treats consumer data. 

Today’s environment is reminiscent of the early 2000s, prior to the passing of The CAN-SPAM Act. Similar to that time, we have a patchwork of state-level data privacy laws that are not always in alignment with each other. This creates a confusing and challenging situation for marketers who want to comply with the new laws. While no federal privacy law is close to passing, there are initiatives underway at the congressional level to create a regulation that would supersede the states and create a clear set of guidelines for companies marketing to consumers across the U.S.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that while the tools and technologies at the marketer’s disposal have advanced, Suppression Lists remain a vital component to complying not only with CAN-SPAM, but also other data privacy laws giving consumers options for opting out of all marketing communications from a company.

For more articles like this, check out our blog here!

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