Starting in July of 2014, email marketers will have new regulations to contend with, thanks to the Parliament of Canada. The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (our northern neighbors’ answer to CAN-SPAM) applies specific requirements for commercial electronic messages that are sent to and from Canadian servers. American organizations that do business across the boarder need to familiarize themselves with the legislation and reassess their own lists to make sure they are in compliance with the CASL.
Despite their reputation for pacifism, Canada is coming down hard on unwanted marketing emails. In order to remain compliant with the new law, there are four primary stipulations that organizations need to be aware of. These requirements are:
• pre-establishing consent
• clearly identifying the sender
• providing honest and accurate information
• including an easy-to-spot immediate unsubscribe
Consent. The CASL requires senders to acquire a recipient’s consent prior to sending them a message. The recipient must willingly give you their email address and express consent to receiving marketing emails from you before you can send them any kind of commercial message. CAN-SPAM, on the other hand, assumes consent and lets you send until a recipient opts out. Because the CASL does not assume consent, and instead requires express permission from the recipient, senders are required to obtain consent before sending.
The law also prohibits the use of pre-filled check boxes. Any subscription form that uses check boxes must include the opt-in version, instead of the ever-popular pre-checked box that requires the recipient to uncheck in order to opt out. This system proves that the recipient knowingly chose to check the box for receiving your marketing messages. This consent requirement is the main difference between CAN-SPAM and the CASL.
Identification. As part of the new legislation, commercial emails sent to Canada must include a real, accurate, and identifiable ‘sent from’ address. The sender must also include a valid physical address for their business or organization.
Honesty and Accuracy. All subject lines will be required to accurately portray the contents of the message, and information contained therein must be factually accurate as well. Any commercial electronic message will need to explicitly state that it’s an advertisement.
Unsubscribe. According to the CASL, all commercial messages will have to include an easy-to-spot, real-time unsubscribe option. The law requires unsubscribe links to remain live for at least 60 days.
The most complex of these requirements is consent
By far the most complex of these requirements is the issue of consent. The CASL breaks consent down into two categories: implied and express consent. Express consent is when a recipient has unequivocally provided you with their approval to receive your messages. The goal of the CASL is for all senders to have express permission before sending commercial messages. Implied consent applies to instances like membership organizations, established business relationships, and purchases, where it can be at least inferred that the recipient is interested in receiving your messages.
Senders that have an established relationship with a recipient (in other words, you have been doing business with another company or individual for an extended period of time) have a two-year exemption to re-acquire permission to continue sending. With consumer purchases, every new purchase restarts a two-year clock of implied consent. Obviously, if at any point the recipient unsubscribes, you can no longer send them messages under any circumstances.
Outside of these cases, the rules regarding implied consent are very ambiguous. The CASL is also vague in its wording of the ‘reasonable knowledge’ exemption, which grants senders leniency in situations where they can’t reasonably be expected to know if the recipient is in Canada. These significant grey areas are why it is critical for every organization to get a firm understanding of where they fit in with the CASL’s consent requirement.
It’s not ALL bad news
While the new law might force you to spend some time tweaking your messaging, these new requirements are not all bad news: they provide a great opportunity to improve the quality of your mailing lists, and your email marketing strategies as a whole.
Before the 7/1 deadline kicks in, you could try:
- Sending a message to your old lists asking to confirm email and personal information, including an easy opt-in for receiving subsequent messages. Not only would this allow you to eliminate dead addresses and uninterested recipients from your list, but it will help you rekindle relationships with the ones that do want to continue receiving your messages. After July, even confirmation emails will require prior consent.
- If you’re collecting email addresses on your site, you could immediately send them a validation email asking if they’d like to receive further messages. This would help you protect the quality of your mailing list by immediately eliminating any false addresses. Though these secondary steps might seem redundant, they are great ways to clean up your recipient lists, acquire consent, and establish stronger ties with those recipients that do want to hear from you.
It’s important to note that CASL regulations are on par with email marketing best practices. So if you’ve made the effort to maintain high standards in your email marketing strategies, you’ll be happy to know that your organization is likely already CASL compliant. If not, you can rest assured that your efforts at compliance will be noticed and appreciated by your recipients.
So don’t think of these new restrictions as added burdens, but rather as useful tips for improving your messages by providing your recipients with the honest and straight-forward information they expect. Even the empty checkbox requirement can be a positive: while it will certainly cut down on your number of subscribers, those that do actively give consent are bound to be much more valid leads, so consider making unchecked opt-in boxes your default for subscription pages.
Though it might take some work, maintaining CASL guidelines across all of your messaging (whether you have recipients in Canada or not) will go a long way towards improving your relationship with your recipients, and in turn improving the success of your email marketing campaigns.