Disposable addresses and why online advertising must change

* How disposable e-mail addresses affect business models

In the last newsletter I discussed a number of services that provide disposable e-mail addresses that allow users to provide a working e-mail address for Web sites and services that require them for registration.

As I pointed out, the use of these disposable e-mail address services could jeopardize the business model of many businesses. For example, if you require an e-mail address for a user to download a trial version of your software, you probably plan to use that e-mail address to try to sell the user on buying the full product. You might even plan to sell other products through the same channel. Not being able to work this plan will be seen by many marketing groups as a hugely lost opportunity.

Now to be fair, the number of Internet users who are knowledgeable and understand enough to use a disposable e-mail address service represent a fraction of the total population at present. Even so, if aggressive direct e-mail campaigns we’re seeing today become a common and routine business tool (and all the signs are that this will be the case) then disposable address services will begin to appear in all of the leading desktop and Web-based e-mail systems.

The bad news is that there is really no solution. The core of the problem is the belief that e-mail-based marketing works and, to an extent, it does but that is only true for today and for the spam load that users currently handle. As users begin to demand greater relevance in their communications and less noise, e-mail marketing as we experience it today will become progressively less acceptable.

Now if you are dealing with a product such as software that the end user installs you can, through application features, make the use of e-mail irrelevant. The problem for software marketers will be to face the fact that if someone downloads and installs their application and doesn’t use it there’s no second act – there’s no way to force the user’s attention back to your pitch without an e-mail nudge (and don’t even think of adding advertising pop-up software to the system: If you think adware has a bad reputation now just wait a few months).

The biggest problem with disposable addresses will be for companies offering things like one-time downloadable content such as reports where they have traditionally expected to open a line of communication and sales. Building a useful e-mail list will become progressively and inevitably harder as users get more cagey about what e-mail they accept and read.

What disposable e-mail addresses underline is that the value of e-mail, for the kind of traditional marketing that companies do, will eventually evaporate as users become more guarded of their privacy and actively work to minimize the amount of static they have to deal with.

The result will have to be new forms of online marketing that will be far more intimate and bound up in the user’s overall online experience. Already we can see Web advertising becoming more sophisticated and aiming for a level that might be thought of as “TV with intelligence” – the addition of user context awareness and interaction with the production and presentation values of high-quality television.

Disposable e-mail addresses are just one element, albeit an important one, of the tip of a huge iceberg of problems that will change Internet advertising forever.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022