Email Marketing — How To Remain Compliant

Email Marketing

While many deem email marketing dead, 81% of small and medium businesses use it as the primary customer acquisition and retention tool

Businesses still heavily rely on email marketing, and there are good reasons behind it. 

For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you get a return of $42.

If you already understand the importance of email marketing, the next thing you need to pay attention to is email marketing compliance. 

Depending on your jurisdiction, several laws apply to what you can and cannot do in email marketing. All marketers must know how to be compliant in email marketing to avoid lawsuits and regulatory notices.

Being compliant in email marketing is simple. 

While the nuances of the laws differ depending on the jurisdiction, the core principles are the same. To sum it up one line, your emails cannot be misleading, untruthful, deceptive, pornographic, or sent without consent.

Email marketing — How to remain compliant

First, we will have a look at email compliance rules across the globe. 

Then we will go through the general principles of email compliance. 

In the end, we will talk about a few simple steps you can take to be compliant. Let’s find out more.

1.Email marketing laws around the world

Email marketing laws vary across jurisdictions and nations. However, there are some core similarities in all these laws. For example, each regulation prohibits companies from sending promotional emails without the consent of the receiver.

a) North America

In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 lays down guidelines that all email marketers need to follow. Failing to adhere to these regulations can result in fines of up to $43,792 per violation.

The CAN-SPAM Act says it is mandatory for emailers to mention whether they are sending a promotional email or not. At the same time, the email header must specifically address the purpose of the mail. Apart from that, email senders must ensure that no email is sent without the consent of the receiver.

In Canada, marketers must adhere to CASL and PIPEDA. The Canadian laws are very similar to that of the United States. It also mandates email senders to reveal their identity and not make false claims.

The laws in Canada and the United States came into effect to prevent bulk spam messages. It has been more than a decade since these laws came into being, and they continue to be enforced strictly.

b) Europe

In the European Union, we have the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that regulates email marketing. The GDPR is also very similar to the CAN-SPAM act. Senders must not make false claims and not send emails without consent. To know more about the law, head over to Osano’s guide to GDPR

The UK has the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which regulates marketing emails. As with all the other laws, it regulates email marketers and prevents them from sending bulk, spam, or unsolicited emails.

c) Australia

Australia has the Spam Act of 2003 that regulates all commercial messages including emails. It prohibits the use of email address harvesting software, deceitful emails, and sending promotional messages without consent.

2. General principles of email marketing compliance

While there are many legislations surrounding email marketing and promotional messages, the core principles seem to be uniform across borders. 

Whether it is the United States or Canada or Australia, the outline of email marketing laws are the same. As a marketer, it is more important to know good email marketing practices rather than knowing the nuances of each individual act and law.

a) Get consent

A common theme across the different legislations is the requirement of consent. As a marketer, you cannot send emails to people who did not sign up for it. However, there is no single definition of consent when it comes to marketing laws.

Consent can be both implied and expressed. For example, if a user bought something from your website and shared their email address, it can be taken as implied consent. Express consent, on the other, leaves no room for ambiguity.

To not leave things to speculations, it is best to always get express consent from your target customer base. Doing so might be an impediment to growing your email list but it ensures that you won’t be facing legal trouble.

b) Send relevant emails

Spamming is prohibited under all email marketing laws. 

In the CAN-SPAM act, for example, you cannot send anything that is misleading, false, or unsolicited. Other regulations also have similar clauses.

As a marketer, spamming should be avoided at all costs. Not only does it pose the risk of lawsuits, but it also damages customer relationships. 

In 2022, no one likes a brand that spams its mailing list and sends emails with no value.

c) Respect customer demands

One common requirement is omnipresent in marketing regulations, especially email marketing. You must always have an opt-out option in your emails. 

Further, if anyone opts out of the mailing list, the request must be processed immediately.

Respecting the customer’s desire is always the right thing to do. If someone does not want to receive your promotional emails, you must not send them those at any cost. Following this simple precept will keep you safe from lawsuits and legal trouble.

3.Steps to being compliant in email marketing

a) Ethical avenues to get consent

The first thing to ensure is that you have the consent of the people in your email list. That means email harvesting software is strictly forbidden. 

Most email marketing compliance laws around the world forbid the use of email harvesting software.

The easiest way to get consent without being unethical is to ask for it in unambiguous terms. 

If your potential customers give you their express consent for receiving promotional emails, you can send them without any worry. There are many gray areas in implied consent, and it’s better to not take that route. 

Following this simple principle will keep your email marketing campaign complaint.

b) Being truthful about promotions

Marketing, by definition, can be an exaggeration of the truth. 

However, exaggeration is not always the same as falsification. You might exaggerate the benefits of your products and services, but you cannot make false claims about them. 

As an email marketer, the first thing you need to do is ensure truthfulness in all your promotions.

It can often be tempting to make a tall claim in your emails without checking their veracity. Doing so is not only unethical but also illegal. 

Email marketing laws mandate that your email header or subject line should clearly mention the purpose of the email. That means if it is an advertisement, you tell the readers that it is an advertisement. 

Do not try to sell promotional messages as information.

If you are simply honest in your marketing campaigns, it can save you a lot of legal and regulatory trouble. Always ensure truthfulness in your promotions without any exception.

c) Using the right tone

The tone of emails refers to how you frame your claims. From the legal perspective, it means not adding anything that can be misleading or deceptive. 

Even if it is technically not a lie, consider omitting anything that can be perceived to have a different meaning.

Another aspect of tone and language involves not sending anything that can be seen as offensive. Stay away from anything that is politically incorrect, no matter what your personal views are. At no cost should you send emails with sexual provocation without having express consent and ensuring the age of the receivers.

The right tone also means being empathetic towards bigger causes. Stay away from dark humor when it comes to email marketing, even if that is your marketing style. 

d) Be mindful of email marketing agencies

Many companies prefer to outsource their email marketing campaign. Marketing agencies are often more adept at making campaigns more successful. 

However, not all agencies are the same. If you have hired an agency, whatever it does is also your responsibility.

It is a good practice to monitor all emails that go under the name of your business. A small mistake from an intern could end up becoming a huge problem for you. To avoid all such mishaps, ensure you cross-check all emails before they go out.

Before you hire an email marketing agency, make sure that they do not have a track record of breaching regulations. If your agency is not aware of the laws of your target market’s jurisdiction, have them do their thorough research. These small steps are worth taking considering the long-term benefits.


Once you have the fundamentals in place, being compliant in email marketing is no big deal. 

Thousands of companies are immensely successful in email marketing while being compliant with all regulations. 

We hope our guide will help you become and remain compliant with email marketing laws.

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