A RECENT ARTICLE IN BUSINESS WEEK BEMOANED how boring marketing emails from major advertisers have become. The category is so polluted with spam about porn sites, miracle golf balls, discount Viagra and multi-level marketing “opportunities,” and people have gotten so irritated as a result, that big brands feel like the main thing their email has to do isn’t grab attention or sell product—it’s beg forgiveness for being.

The result is the stifling of a once- promising new advertising medium, which could have set new standards for personalization and effectiveness—and consumer acceptance. But I have a solution: tax it.

Bear with me here. What makes spam possible is simply that it’s free. You buy a CD-ROM with 5 million addresses on it (only 3 million of which are already out of date), and send the exact same thing to every last one of them. Get a .0001% response and it pays out, so the things that normally restrain junk mailers—paper and postage costs, the fear of trashing a brand image—just don’t apply.

A small tax on email (say, a penny per address sent to) wouldn’t affect the average person much; you probably pay more than that for each local call you make, and I bet you never even noticed. But a spammer suddenly looking at a tax bill of $50,000 would instantly have to become at least as selective as, say, First USA in who he mails to. He’d have to learn a thing or two about targeting, and good advertising, and how to be a real marketer—instead of a pest.

So no more communication without taxation! After all, short of government intervention there’s only one hope for the medium: that mainstream brands and agencies actually start creating emails exciting and daring enough that people want to open them—and don’t even consider them in the same category as spam.

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