Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
2212-5671 © 2014 Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of ECE 2014
Enterprise and the Competitive Environment 2014 conference, ECE 2014, 6–7 March 2014, Brno,
Spam and Marketing Communications
, Nico Nijsten
, Robrecht Van Goolen
Leuven University College,Hertogstraat 178, Heverlee 3001, Belgium
The purpose of this research is to describe how spam has become an issue in marketing communications, considering opinions of
the digital marketing sector and Internet users. In-depth interviews were organized with digital marketing experts in order to gain
profounder understanding in the complex construct of spam. Additionally, a web-based survey explored whether and how
ternet users handle spam and privacy online. Survey results unveiled three users segments, each holding specific profiles on
concern for personal information exposed online, sharing information online, and particular coping actions against spamming
(Buchanan, Paine, Joinson, & Reips, 2006; Smith, Milberg, & Burke, 1996).
© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of ECE 2014.
Keywords: spam; privacy concern; e-marketing; marketing communications
The explosive growth and evolution of the Internet have created
a borderless digital environment that has brought
forth new and creative ways of advertising. Whereas a decade ago marketers focused on reaching the consumer via
more traditional media channels (i.e. print media, TV), now more than half of the advertising efforts are aimed at
consumers via websites and social media (Fauconnier, 2012). This trend has brought forth a proliferation of
advertising messages spread online (De Bruyn & Lilien, 2008). Moreover, these online messages often are perceived
as unsolicited and/or unwanted messages, which is generally denoted as spam. Although the number of spam
Corresponding author. Tel.: +(00)32 (0)16 375 329; fax: +(00)32(0)16 375 399.
© 2014 Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of ECE 2014
266 Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
messages reaching Internet users’ mailbox has decreased substantially over the past years because of increasingly
performant mail filters and actions undertaken by Internet providers, still 70 % of all email traffic comprises spam
Defining spam is not that straightforward. The concept can
be interpreted in a myriad of perspectives. In
accordance with European legislation (2002/58/EC) regarding the protection of electronic communication, spam is
defined as ‘unsolicited commercial email messages’ in the current research. Although spam can be dispersed through
different communication channels, the current study confines spam to all commercial messages derived from email
Despite substantial EU legislation trying to ban spam in Europe (Directive 2002/21/EC of 7 March 2002
Framework Directive”, amongst others), illegal online activities still have a negative effect on the use of Internet
services. Hence, the European Commission has been sensitizing regulatory authorities and stakeholders on fighting
spam, spyware and malicious software. (COM (2006) 688 final).
According to Spamlaws (2012) spam messages emitted throu
gh email still are the most used type of spam. These
unwanted emails do not only cause irritation with the receivers (e.g. due to the dispersion of viruses and the overload
of their mailbox) but, moreover, an increase in online privacy concern is ascertained. While some Internet users
carefully monitor the personal information they reveal online, others take more risks regarding their privacy and
online security (Milne, Labrecque, & Cromer, 2009).
To gain a profounder underst
anding in the topic, in-depth interviews on spam and online privacy matters were
organized with experts in the direct marketing sector and with Internet service providers. In addition, via a web-
based survey, this study explored how Internet users manage online privacy and whether they take measures to
emselves against spamming on the Internet. The results of this survey showed three users segments, each
holding specific profiles on concern for personal information exposed online and on sharing information online, on
socio-demographics and on particular coping actions (Buchanan
, Paine, Joinson, & Reips, 2006; Smith, Milberg, &
2. Research methods
In this research both quantitative as qualitative techniques wer
e used. For insights on thoughts from experts in the
digital marketing sector, in-depth interviews were organized. These insights were used to set up a web-based
nsumer survey in which consumers were questioned on their attitudes towards spam and the protection of personal
2.1 In-depth interviews
In order to gain a better understanding in how the digital media sector reflects on spam, in-depth interviews were
anized. Open-ended questions were posed to allow respondents
to elaborate and expound on feelings and
concerns regarding spam, giving respondents the freedom to ans
wer the questions in their own words. The key
questions of the interviews were preplanned (and later used for the consumer’s questionnaire) but the interview was
conversational enough to enable questions flowing from prev
Three intensive individual interviews were conducted to ex
plore experts’ perspectives on spam. The purpose of
the in-depth interviews was to gauge the insights of experts on spam, discussing the current issues on spam and the
tion of spam since the introduction of the legislation concerning certain legal aspects on services of the
information society and sending of electronic mail. The three experts that were interviewed are Joris Buys of EDPnet
(Internet service provider) and member of ISPA (Internet service provider association), Patrick Marck, general
manager of Interactive Advertising Bureau Belgium (IAB) and Nicolas Cobbaert, inspector at FPS (Federal Public
The answers that surfaced were used to set up a survey ai
med at consumers, asking about their attitudes towards
spam and online privacy and whether and how they cope with spam.
Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
2.2 Web-based consumer survey
Participants were recruited via a commercial opt-in consumer panel. To stimulate involvement and in return for
mpleting a web-based survey participants could be included in a rando
m drawing for a gift certificate. Fifteen
hundred and one completed surveys were collected, representing the Flemish email user population. Participants
completed the online survey asking about their attitude, perception and behavior towards spam and gauged their
coping actions towards spam.
2.2.1 Questions regarding Internet use
Participants were asked to indicate for h
ow long they had been using the Internet, the main purposes for which
they use the Internet (e.g., reading emails, online gaming, participating in social network sites) and to estimate hours
spend on reading emails.
2.2.2. Spam questions
Participants were asked whether they had
ever accepted an offer of spam advertising and why they reacted upon
this offer. We also had participants indicate which topics occurred most in a received spam message (e.g., porn,
pharmaceutical products, investment opportunities) (Bergstein, 2004; Gobert, 2006; Purvis, 2011).
They needed to indicate which coping actions they had alre
ady taken against spam. We also asked them to what
extent they agreed upon receiving emails via opt-in (requiring prior permission from consumers before using
al information and thus giving them more control) and opt-out (including consumers in a mailing list with the
y to unsubscribe, which means that consumers need take action to remove themselves from the list) (Milne
Privacy concern attitudes
Participants filled out a privacy concern
scale (eight items selected from Buchanan, Paine, Joinson, & Reips,
2006). This shorter version of the scale consisted of items such as “In general, how concerned are you about your
acy while you are using the Internet?”. Participants had to indicate whether they agreed with each item on a five-
point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very muc
h). In a principal components analysis (varimax rotation)
a one-factor solution emerged for the Privacy Concern Scale, explaining 57.72 % of the variance (EV = 4.62). In
dition, the responses to all items of the privacy concern scale had a solid internal consistency (cronbach’s alpha =
Protecting personal information
Using the Information Privacy Instrument by Smith, Milberg
, and Burke (1996) participants indicated to what
extent they agreed with statements regarding privacy of personal information (e.g. “It usually bothers me when
companies ask me for personal information”). Each of the eight items was to be scored on a five-point Likert scale
chored by 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) (cronbach’s alpha = .88). In a principal components analysis
(varimax rotation) a two-factor solution emerged, explaining each 55.48 % (EV = 4.44) and 14.37% (EV = 1.15) of
e variance. Accordingly, two subscales can be derived from this instrument: one concerning the collection of
personal information (cronbach’s alpha = .86) and one subscale comprising unauthorized secondary use of personal
information (cronbach’s alpha = .84). Besides filling out this instrument participants also had to answer questions
regarding sharing and falsifying personal information in order to protect their identity.
We asked about participants’ sex, age, educatio
n, and profession using standard questions.
268 Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
3. Results and discussion
3.1 In-depth interviews
In corroboration with the theoretical background (section 1), th
e experts, too, define spam messages as unwanted
digital messages. According to the Internet services provider sector, m
ost spam is dispersed by dishonest and
criminal organizations, containing criminal but most certainly misleading messages. As stated in the literature
overview, almost 70 % of email traffic contains spam. According to J
oris Buys of EDPnet (Internet service
provider), the amount of spam messages is certainly not decreasing but Internet service providers perform more
effectively at filtering spam. That is, currently, Internet service providers filter spam to an “acceptable” level for
consumers, but claim that fully reducing spam to a zero-level seems impossible. Patrick Ma
rck, general manager of
IAB, agrees to this opinion and adds that a zero-level only can be obtained when email becomes a paying service.
One of the negative consequences of an even stricter filte
ring option is that, for both businesses as individual
Internet users, a spam filter may filter an outgoing message that is not spam and thus not unwanted.
In all three interviews, the experts voiced their concern about the Internet literacy of consumers. They stated that
nsumers need to be sensitized on spam, specifically on new types of spam entering the digital environment. In
dition, permission management becomes of growing importance: according to the digital marketing sector not all
Internet users are fully aware of the implications of permitting businesses to using personal information and that
permissions can be withdrawn at all times. Therefore, the opt-in principle (Internet users need to grant permission to
sinesses before using personal information and thus users have more control) is an important legislation regarding
permission management. According to Patrick Marck, the opt-in principle was first introduced with the means of
minating spam. However, in reality mala fide companies do not respect the opt-in legislation. Bona fide
mpanies understand that consumers are not interested in commercial messages without given permission. For bona
ide companies, the opt-in principle is in fact a mere marketing principle: a reduction of the number of unsolicited
mails in consumers’ inbox leads to more attention to each received email.
Since the cessation of Spamsquad, a Belgian governmenta
l platform where consumers could lodge complaints,
Nicolas Cobbaert, inspector at FPS (Federal
Public Service) Economy wonders whether Internet users know they
now need to address complaints to FPS.
3.2 Web-based consumer survey
3.2.1 Sample characteristics
Fifteen hundred and one participants (775 women and 726 men) took part in this study in Flanders (Dutch
peaking part of Belgium). Respondents varied in age from 16 to 74 years old (M = 41.41, SD = 14.76). Their
cational level was classified in three groups: participants having a degree up to secondary education (n = 331),
participants holding a secondary education diploma (n = 636) and participants with a higher education diploma (n =
3.2.2 Questions regarding Internet use
Most of the participants (37.5 %) have been using the Internet for 11 to 15 y
ears. Participants use the Internet the
most for reading their emails (96.7 %), followed by information seeking (89.6 %) and Internet banking (79.8 %). On
dents spend 43.24 minutes a day checking their email (SD = 43.18).
3.2.3 Spam questions
Spam and privacy concern attitudes
Results show that 94 % of the participants has already received an e
mail with an offer for a product or service
without asking for it. Apparently, 17.9 % receives more than ten unwanted commercial email messages, 24.5 %
es between six and ten spam messages, and for 52.7 % spam is limited to less than six messages on a daily
. Although participants receive a great amount of spam messages, 75.8 % of them has never engaged in buying
e offered product or service.
Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
Spam messages most frequently received are invitations to participate in contests, followed by the offering of free
gifts, receiving chain letters, gambling, and the sales of untrustworthy products (e.g., anabolic steroids or products to
enhance one’s sex life).
When receiving spam, only 2.6 % of the respondents reads the message, 55.4 % deletes the message immediately
ithout opening it, 43.6 % only reads the subject title and 27.6 % opens the email and tries to opt-out. Respondents
nvinced that measures should be taken by the government (35.3 %), by the Internet service provider (60.5 %)
the users themselves (49.4 %). Our respondents do take action to protect th
eir online privacy: in an attempt to
counter spam 27 % blocks unknown senders and 17.5 % has installed and uses spam filters.
Privacy concern and protection of pers
Participants were to specify the kind of person
al information they do not want to share or that they had already
falsified online (e.g., name, address, occupation). Results show that participants are reluctant to share their address
(80.4 %) and phone number (88.1 %) online, followed by information about others (family members or friends),
eir email address (29 %) and name (26.8 %). Participants also had to indicate if th
ey had ever falsified information
when being asked about personal information online. In line with the results on sharing personal information,
participants mostly falsified their phone number (29.2 %), their address (23.5 %), and name (22.3 %) when asked
line. However, 52.8 % of the participants indicated not falsifying any
personal information. These results clearly
demonstrate that participants are aware of the potential danger of sharing their personal information on the Internet.
the participants’ view, falsifying this information appears to be a bridge too far.
In order to segment Internet users’ profiles, a cluster analysis was run on 1501 cases, each responding to items on
acy concern (Privacy Concern Scale), on unauthorized secondary use of personal information and on the
collection of personal information (Information Privacy Instrument). A hierarchical cluster analysis using Ward’s
method and applying squared Euclidean distance produced three clusters. ANOVA’s on the scale items showed three
clusters between which the variables were significantly different in the main (respectively F(2, 1498) = 532.35,
p<.001; F(2, 1498) = 804.46, p<.001; F(2, 1498) = 527.24, p<.001) (checked with a significant Tukey post-hoc test).
e first cluster (30.4 % of the respondents) is characterized by an avera
ge privacy concern, a low concern for
collection of personal information and a high concern for unauthorized secondary use. The second cluster (39.9 %)
nsists of participants with an average privacy concern, an average concern for collection of personal information
and a low concern of unauthorized secondary use of personal information. The third cluster (29.7 %) is characterized
ith a high privacy concern, a high concern for collection of personal information as well as for unauthorized
secondary use of personal information.
Participants in all three clusters undertake coping actions t
o protect themselves from spam. However, the three
clusters significantly differ in results regarding participants’ perception of spam and whether they choose to opt-out
or opt-in on a commercial message. One third of our participants
indicated to open a spam email and immediately
opt-out. In cluster 2 we can notice a significant underrepresentation
of participants answering that they do
immediately opt-out. Still, the second cluster agrees more upon the opt-out principle (M = 4.14, SD =1.14) than the
rst (M = 4.00, SD = 1.15) and third cluster (M = 3.88, SD = 1.06), F(2, 1498) = 7.04, p= .001. Considering the opt-
in principle, the means for the first, secon
d and third cluster are respectively 4.22 (SD = 0.85), 4.21 (SD = 0.98) and
3.96 (SD = 0.94), F(2, 1498) = 13.14, p< .001. More than half of
our participants (56.4 %) claims using a spam
folder. In cluster 1 participants answering they do not use such a folder were underrepresented. Reinforcing this
result, an overrepresentation of participants in this cluster answered they do protect themselves online by using a
The data used in the following paragraphs were analyzed using partitioned chi-square in accordance with
Wonnacott and Wonnacott (1990).
270 Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
Eighty-five percent of the participants claims refusing to give personal information online as a way of coping
with unwanted commercial email messages. The second cluster is the most reluctant in sharing personal information
(M = 3.97, SD = 1.71), whereas the first (M = 3.22, SD = 1.41) and third (M = 3.44, SD = 1.62) clusters significantly
ide more information, F(2, 1498) = 27.56, p< .001. In cluster 1 we find an overrepresentation of participants
wering they do not refuse to give personal information (i.e. they do share personal information), while an
underrepresentation was found in cluster 3. The three clusters are not different in falsifying personal information (M
= 1.34, SD =1.86, p> .05). The second cluster receives significantly
more spam messages than the first and third
cluster, F(2, 1498) = 7.35, p= .001.
Results showed that cluster 1 holds an overrepresentation of participants aged up to 30 years old, while
multaneously holds an underrepresentation of participants older than 50. In addition, in cluster 1 participants with a
higher educational level are overrepresented. Taking into account that participants in this cluster have the lowest
concern for their personal information being exposed online, that they share information online more easily but do
use their spam folder, we can conclude that these are the so-called digital natives. Oppositely, cluster 3 is identified
an underrepresentation of participants younger than 30 and at the same time an overrepresentation of participants
older than 50. This translates in their coping actions and in the high concern this cluster has for their privacy and
information sharing online. Participants in this cluster do not often ask to remove their personal information for
arketing purposes but they are more reluctant of sharing personal information on a website. Cluster 2 holds
participants with a high privacy concern, a high concern for the collection of personal information as well as for
unauthorized use of this information. However, this cluster cannot be characterized by a specific age range.
The purpose of the current study was to explore people’
s attitudes towards online privacy and the measures taken
to protect themselves against spamming. Insights were gathered from digital marketing experts, giving their thoughts
on spam, on online privacy and on legislation. In addition, a web-based survey unveiled three customer segments,
olding specific profiles on online privacy concern, sharing of personal information and attitude towards spam,
socio demographics and particular coping actions. Results of this survey show that Internet users clearly engage in
various coping actions in protecting themselves from spam. Nevertheless, in the experts’ opinions Internet users
need to be sensitized on spam to an even greater extent, taking into account spamming via new technologies such as
blue spam or mobile spam. Experts claim that users do not fully grasp the construct of spam and in addition state that
users need to be empowered and educated on permission management and how to act upon cookies. Contrary to
most users, experts are well aware of the prevailing legislation on spam and indicate the opt-in legislation as a means
permission management. The Internet service provider sector expresses the concern that still too little users know
precisely where to denounce complaints on spam and point out the still existent Internet literacy gap, particularly
with vulnerable groups.
5. Limitations and future research
Even though in-depth interviews have the advantage of providing
more detailed information, the small sample
size – inherent to this research method – prohibits generalization of the results. However, in-depth interviews do
ide valuable information that may give better understanding in the topic (Boyce & Neale, 2006). The survey
results are based on data from a Flemish commercial opt-in consumer panel and thus cannot be generalized to the
orld Internet population.
Although the results show that participants clearly engage in various coping actions in protecting themselves from
m, more research is clearly needed entangling protective behaviors. These results may contribute into giving
more insight into marketing possibilities for each of the clusters taking into account the different profiles.
Within the discussion of permission management, cookies are becoming of greater importance. A cookie is a
mall file of letters and numbers that is downloaded when accessing websites (Palmer, 2005). Cookies allow a
website to recognize a user’s preference, which can be of interest for a company and its marketing purposes. Spam
messages in the more traditional form of advertising are disappearing and new types are rising such as phishing
Kim Janssens et al. / Procedia Economics and Finance 12 ( 2014 ) 265 – 272
emails and malware. Consequently, even Internet literate users should be cautious to avoid becoming a victim of
fraudulent practices online (Securelist, 2013).
Future research would benefit from insights on to w
hat level Internet users are familiar with permission
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