Spammers are Marketers Too...Right?

Internet spammers are, if anything, very very persistent. And while it's obviously not the same three or four masterminds sending every "chEEp V!@gRa!" email out there, the sheer volume of spam speaks to its popularity and, apparently, success.

It's kinda like those warning labels on appliances [please take off clothes before ironing]. The concept seems ridiculous to most of us...but they obviously exist for a reason.

japanese warning

It seems ridiculous, but obviously someone's getting paid from spam.

The Economics of Spam

According to a BBC News article, a recent spam study showed a conversion rate of only 0.00001%. That's an average of one online pharmacy sale in every 12.5 million emails - or in this case, 28 sales out of 350 million emails. The scary thing is, with bots automatically multiplying and distributing these messages, all spammers have to do is wait and cash in. The study estimated that the most sophisticated spam networks are generating over $2 million annually. And while that number seems mind-blowing, it's important to keep in mind the size and scope of these operations - not the mention the time they've had to evolve.

The Evolution of Spam

I actually got the idea for this post after reading a surprisingly emotional and manipulative message in my gmail spambox. Click the screenshot below to check it out - it's a definite must read.

gmail spam message

Traditionally, spammers aren't known for their grammar, spelling, or precision with the written word. But after years of practice, it seems that someone in upper-management has sent a memo stressing the importance such skills. And frankly, as any good marketer would expect, a little time, testing, and practice has led to better campaigns. Of course, I can't speak to the conversion rates, just the quality of the message itself. If you're too lazy to actually click the thumbnail above (disgraceful), I'll summarize what I believe to be the key details of this message.

Sender: Simon Taylor, 65-year-old British-native living in Dubai

Important details:

1) Wife and two children died in a car accident six years ago
2) Used to be a workaholic until losing his family put his life into perspective
3) Currently undergoing treatment for Oesophageal Cancer
4) Has lost his ability to talk
5) Only has a few months left to live

Reason for email: Needs help distributing $5 million among charities

How he earned money: Owned two businesses in Dubai

Before getting sick: "I have been helping orphans in orphanage/ motherless homes. I have donated some money to orphans in Sudan, South Africa, Cameroon, Brazil, Spain, Austria, Germany and some Asian countries."

Why he needs ME: "Because relatives and friends have plundered so much of my wealth since my illness, I cannot live with the agony of entrusting this huge responsibility to any of them."

What's in it for me?: "I'm willing to offer you a reward If you are willing to help please reply as soon as you can. May the good Lord bless you and your family."

Number of religious allusions: 5

Now, the grammar and spelling may not be perfect, but what Simon lacks in formal education, he makes up for in tragic emotional appeal. Simon is the King Lear of Dubai and wants nothing more than to donate his hard earned cash to charities across the world. And without my help, his relatives may squander the rest of his wealth. How can you say no to that?

simon taylor and fam

Honestly, I think the only thing missing is a picture of him and his family at the indoor ski slope Ski Dubai. But, give it time - Simon, like any marketer, is improving with practice. Best of luck, my man.

Hit Me.


Anonymous said...

I got in a long argument with a spammer before that told me i won a british lottery haha. The offer was too good not to test out the waters, but needless to say I was not going to send him my social security number and bank information!

I also have to admit that was a pretty well constructed story by this spammer, he is going to burn the hell out of those evangelicals... they will throw him a pity party!

Anonymous said...

Spammers as marketers-- another interesting topic. The numbers are staggering, of course, but beyond the top individuals (top defined by volume, I guess), is there really money in this? Or money that allows people to operate consistently over time?

I think there are two questions the answers to which would provide interesting follow-up posts. The first is more on point but may be harder to figure out: who, exactly is running these spam operations? What is their structure, organization, goal (really?), etc.? A sort of inside look, if you will. The second has more to do with web revenue generally, namely: what happens when businesses realize that nobody clicks on banner/sidebar ads? This latter point is a bit of an extrapolation, but it seems to me that it is the king's new clothes of free internet services (e.g., Google), and it may all come crashing down (like the stock market when everybody realized it's made up).

Good work as always, Matt. Compelling, thought-provoking content. I like the black backdrop, but the color splatter on your new banner makes me uncomfortable, as does the word "memes."

Poop sandwich?

Anonymous said...

I love their matching outfits! Can't wait to go Ski Dubai!

MB said...


You raise some very good points. If I had the time (motivation) to do more research, these would be great areas to explore. I recall that a few months ago, one or two major spam servers were axed and it had a dramatic effect on volume (at least initially). I'd love to read the facebook profile of a spam-king. (Interests: increeze the size of ur t00l, video games). I'm surprised there's not more info out there considering how ubiquitous the problem.

In terms of the aesthetics - I definitely appreciate the feedback. The paint splatter was an attempt to portray "catharsis" (think Jackson Pollock). I'm gonna give it time to sink in. Great point on the use of "meme" - it's inclusion was more to satisfy a "buzz word" necessity than anything else. I don't exactly use it in everyday conversation, so I think it may get axed soon enough.

As always, I appreciate the comments. Keep 'em coming.