Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws Spell Crackdown for Email Marketers

July 1st 2014 marked a big day in Canada. Yes, it was our country’s 147th birthday — however, if you’re a digital marketer, the date signifies much more than relaxing with a Molson under red-and-white fireworks (or whatever Canucks actually do on Canada Day). CASL, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, went into effect July 1st, 2014.

‘Spam’ has a long and much-despised history in the digital world, blooming from 1994-era Netscape and reference to a famed Monty Python sketch. Chain letters and flagrant ads are what we think of as de facto spam; however, many reputable companies utilize email lists to send newsletters, promotions, and whitepapers as integral components of their marketing strategy. Now, what’s going to change?

CASL Spam Law

The CASL Breakdown

Your email list members will need to manually opt-in prior to receiving any commercial communication from you. This opt-in consent can be given in writing, verbally (with a record of the commitment) or through manual sign-up, but it needs to be an active decision on the consumer end.

Unlike the American CAN-SPAM act, under CASL, express consent cannot be obtained through an opt-out mechanism. There must be some positive action by the recipient – silence or inaction will not constitute express consent nor will an unchecked opt-out box or a pre-checked opt-in box. (Lawson Lundell LLP)

Consent can also be implied through an existing business relationship, as long as your business can provide proof of the deal (if you’re utilizing a CRM, client records within should suffice as proof). This type of consent remains valid until two years after the business deal ended. In addition to an actual transaction, an existing business relationship includes an inquiry made within the previous six months.

Essentially, your current email list will need to be re-qualified. As I’ll discuss below, it’ll be most efficient for businesses to complete this re-qualification before the new laws come into effect.


How will outgoing emails be monitored – and how will companies be penalized if they don’t comply with CASL? Professional organizations will be subject to examination from three federal agencies which will be able to investigate communication and set administrative monetary penalties. No more info is given on how this auditing process takes place – but according to the Globe and Mail, penalties can cost up to $1 million for an individual and up to $10 million for companies.

CASL Recommendations

Despite the anxiety that CASL has created among marketers, it’s not a death sentence. If you’re offering value and high-quality content, people will opt in to your communication because it benefits them. Think of CASL as yet another emphasis on the right kind of content marketing: pieces which are relevant, engaging and provide your target audience with information/offers they actually use.

Here are some suggestions:

  • We recommend first running a database query that identifies users who have not opened X amount (say, 5-6) of your past messages. From here, you can choose to reach out (before July 1st!) with a specific promotion or enticing content as one last push to get these users to opt-in. After the campaign has run, remove the users who still didn’t open. They are unlikely to ever engage at this point.
  • Further segment your list into users who have opened X amount of your emails before. If your database is organized enough, you can group this by users who’ve opened event campaigns vs. whitepapers vs. newsletters, etc. Send targeted emails (again, before July 1st!) to each of those sectors, highlighting the benefits of opting in to communication – i.e. receiving news on the latest events before anyone else, invitations to exclusive webinars, or promo codes. Customize the benefits to each segment of your engaged list.
  • If you don’t have detailed segmented lists, consider sending out a re-engagement email to your overall list, which will then direct to a custom landing page. The landing page can include the individual’s name and email for confirmation, as well as a form including questions on their frequency preferences and interests, so you can begin segmenting your lists based on that data.
  • A portion of your list will contain people who are already opted-in through implied consent (remember that? They’ve inquired about your services or you have a business relationship). Don’t abandon them, as you may need them to opt back in a few years down the road. You should still distribute quality content to them incrementally to ensure they see benefits from your communication.
  • Ensure opt-in forms on your website are convenient, easily-accessible, and list the benefits of communication from your business. Here’s an example that does all three:
  • Consult this CASL compliance flowchart (located on the last page of this article) to ensure that all your email/mobile activity conducted after July 1st falls within the legal regulations.

Remember, making email marketers more responsible for their databases is not necessarily a bad thing. The change promotes a healthy business/consumer relationship, one where value is provided to both parties.

Do you have any other tactics up your sleeve in preparation for CASL?

Header image credit:

Share This

TrueView for Action: Using YouTube Advertising for Performance

Follow us @6S_Marketing

See our featured post