Starting from next month, some completely new, extremely rigorous, and rather restrictive set of legislative regulations is set to affect online marketers who are in the business of sending commercial messages to their customers in Canada. The legislation in question is Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) which threatens violators anywhere in the world with fines that could readily be in the millions of dollars. This legislation encompasses all standard forms of digital channels including text messages and social media, but it will also have an effect on computer programs including any kind of software that alters the data during transmission. Needless to say, the primary target is email marketing.

A CEM is any digital promotional message
The primary term in the Canadian legislation is a “commercial electronic message” (CEM) which is defined as any kind of a message in digital form which main purpose is advertising or promoting a specific brand, product, person, event or investment. According to the letter of the regulations, if there is any kind of advertising or commercial content contained in the message, it is most likely to be considered as a CEM under this new legislation. While an individual post stating that you have just had a new Frappuccino and you love it would not be considered an ad, a very similar post by Starbucks would definitely qualify as a CEM.

Goodbye Welcome Program!

One of the primary aspects of the legislation which is still largely unknown to most online marketers is how will CASL have an impact on their campaigns and how should they handle things like social media, permissions and acquisition of email addresses in the future. For example, an email welcome program that allows the marketers to get in contact with their subscribers early in their relationship will be very difficult to implement legally under the new rules set by CASL. This factor will force online marketers to work diligently towards finding an innovative alternative, as the welcome programs have been regarded as one of the best ways to increase customer engagement over the lifetime of a subscriber according to most studies. Most online marketers will be in the position where they certainly don’t want to give them up without a fight.

FTAF is now verboten

CASL will primarily focus on ensuring that the end user has actually opted in and is interested in the marketing messages. Due to the emphasis on this predetermination it seems that one of the first online marketing standbys which gets endangered by the new legislation is the good old forward-to-a-friend (FTAF) button. Because of the elevated chances that the friend which is the subject of the message is being forwarded to hasn’t opted themselves in to receive that very message, their permitted usage will be far more limited once CASL takes effect.

Prove relationship to a foreign government

The legislation allows this method of marketing only if there is some kind of preexisting proof that the individual forwarding the message is in a personal relationship with the receiver of the messages. This excludes people who are business associates where there isn’t a personal relationship established, but only a working relationship. And even if there is a personal relationship between the two parties, the person sending the mail would have to provide evidence of the relationship. Even though US online marketers may rail at providing “proof of relationship” which can be extremely tenuous at best (and to a foreign government to boot), this legislation is probably a good enough reason to put the Forward to a Friend button behind us and find better and legally permitted methods of marketing.

Yet another factor which has become verboten for marketing messages to the Great White North is email appending. This is the time honored method many online marketers apply to match their customer’s known data to a vendor’s database. Although this process enables marketers to get in contact with their current customers, there is usually no pre-existing consent provided by the individuals which makes any message a CEM and therefore off-limits. CASL is an online marketing game-changer and creates a new layer of compliance for online marketers everywhere.