The History of Spam in Marketing (2022)

The History of Spam in Marketing (1)Act-On

Data Management and Reporting

“Two years from now, spam will be solved” – Bill Gates, 2004.

A virtually unregulated space, the Internet is ripe with individuals and companies skirting the gray area of marketing best practices. Log in online and within a few short minutes, you’re sure to be exposed to spam. Whether it’s in your inbox or DMs, it won’t take long for you to be barraged with failed spammy marketing attempts.

The History of Spam in Marketing (2)

A myriad of spam types exists today, including email, social media, search engines, and more. In spite of Bill Gates’ prediction, the problem of electronic junk mailings and postings certainly hasn’t been solved. If anything, it has gotten worse.

(Video) A Brief History of SPAM

In this article, we’ll dive in a bit deeper into the history of spam and what some countries are doing today to crack down on this expensive and time-consuming marketing gray area.

What Is Spam?

Electronic spamming is the act of using electronic messaging platforms to send unsolicited messages (spam). Often, spam is advertising sent repeatedly for the same site. The most widely recognized type of electronic spam is email spam, but the term can also be used to describe search engine spam, social media spam, mobile app spam, spam on blogs, wiki spam, forum spam, and many more.

Where Did the Word “Spam” Come From?

The act of sending unsolicited messages in the 20th century was named after “Spam,” a food product that is stereotypically thought of as being disliked by many. Distributed by Hormel and sold around the globe, Spam is precooked and canned spiced ham (thus the abbreviation “Spam”) and was first introduced in 1937. The analogy was also inspired by a Monty Python sketch about a menu that includes Spam in every dish. The reference is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying electronic spam is ubiquitous, undesirable, and unwanted.

What Was Spam Like in the Early Days?

Advertising spam didn’t start in the 20th century; it actually started well before the 1900s. However, prior to the 1970s, this type of spam didn’t have a name. One of the first reported cases was in the form of a telegram from London dentist Messrs. Gabriel. In May of 1864. the company sent unsolicited messages to members of British Parliament to let them know the dental office would be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through October. A recipient was so outraged at having received the advertisement that he sent it to the editor of The Times of London to complain, as seen in the image below. The first case of spam going viral? Quite possibly. Thousands of Londoners saw the letter in the newspaper, a not-so-easy feat at the time.

Types of Spam in Marketing

As today’s consumers, we are masters at quickly recognizing advertisements. Whether it’s a product sponsorship in your favorite show or a sponsored ad on Facebook, you can intuitively spot it from a mile away. But how keenly trained is your eye for identifying spam? Let’s unpack a few of the most prevalent types of online marketing spam.

Email Marketing Spam

One of the first and most common online spamming tactics are unsolicited emails. We can thank Mr. Gary Thuerk, of Digital Equipment Corp., for the very first unsolicited mass email. In 1978, to promote a new computer model, Thuerk sent out an email via ARPANET (the precursor to the Internet) to 393 users who had not opted into the advertisement. Thurek’s tactics were responsible for selling quite a few computers but also earned him the moniker “Father of Spam”.

(Video) The History of Digital Spam

As email has evolved, so have the methods and strategies used by online marketers and publicists. The mid-1990s were ripe with marketers testing the waters to see what could be done, until technologies were adapted to filter out most spam. Still, today, nearly 86% of the world’s email traffic is from unsolicited junk mail, according to Bloomberg. Small batch attacks beat more sophisticated email filters, continuing to account for billions of unsolicited emails sent daily.

Spam in Search & Content Marketing

Next in the spam “popularity” standings is spam aimed at affecting search engine rankings and content marketing efforts. Garnering a #1 ranking for a highly competitive keyword, even for a day, can be extremely lucrative for some websites. Often this type of spam is done in the following forms:

  • Site scraping and duplicate content: Malicious sites will build programs to crawl and index content on a website, repost all of that content, and host it on their own websites. In essence, they are replicating a site without permission and doing so for their own benefit.
  • Link building: This is a commonly known tactic to help improve rankings, but when it’s done incorrectly it can be seen as spam. Links obtained by paying for them, via blog networks, in excess (or through unnatural ways), on forums or in comments, and forced on a site via injected code, are all examples of links being used as spam.
  • Low-quality content: A site that publishes content on a regular basis which is not viewed by visitors, is not deemed useful, or is not well written or otherwise is of lower quality, can be considered spam to some within the marketing community. (This is a subjective categorization, of course).
  • Referrer: A site that sends spam traffic to your site and visits that are bots and not real humans are deemed ”referral spam.”

Email Deliverability: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

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(Video) Top 10 Untold Truths of SPAM

PPC Fraud

Ads where businesses pay for each user who clicks are called pay-per-click ads. A common way for spamming or fraud to occur with PPC involves false clicks. Click fraud happens when the company selling the advertising pays “fake” users to click on ads. These are users who have no interest in the offering they’re clicking on. PPC fraud is done to increase the cost to the end advertiser.

Imagine all the extra costs if your PPC ads are clicked on by users not intending to purchase your product! Click fraud can seriously affect your performance; it’s definitely something you should look out for. Learn how to identify click fraud in this article.

Even the most well-intentioned marketers could be guilty of spamming their audience. Sure, some common tactics are fine in the long run. But when you overdo it, that’s when a good marketing strategy can go awry. Are you guilty of spamming your social followers?

Mitigating & Stopping Spam

With commercial spam so prevalent online, what is being done to mitigate it? Some countries have backed legislation preventing and penalizing companies and individuals who participate in malicious and nefarious spam tactics. People or organizations caught disobeying rules and regulations can get fined thousands of dollars if they don’t comply.

Canada’s Anti Spam Legislation has made global headlines, setting an example for other countries aiming to reduce the effect spam has on their infrastructure and economy. Much more needs to be done, however, to help raise awareness and put an end to spam online. Countries like Germany, France, Japan, and others are at the forefront of helping to end spam for good.

Many hidden expenses are associated with spam, burdening many companies and individuals and costing them both time and hard-earned cash. It’s no wonder countries are doing what they can to adopt and enforce legislation to address the nasty consequences spam can have.

(Video) The History of Spam

Tips to Prevent Spam

As a consumer, there are a few things you can do to avoid falling victim to spam. First, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest spam trends and tactics. Read anti-spam resources, promote responsible net commerce, and check out the top tools to prevent and maintain spam.

Will spam ever stop? It’s not likely it will disappear entirely, but you can work to reduce its effect on your business now that you’re armed with more information about it.

Here are some valuable resources in the fight against spam:

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(Video) The Absolute BRILLIANCE of NASCAR Marketing in the 90's


The History of Spam in Marketing? ›

The act of sending unsolicited messages in the 20th century was named after “Spam,” a food product that is stereotypically thought of as being disliked by many. Distributed by Hormel and sold around the globe, Spam is precooked and canned spiced ham (thus the abbreviation “Spam”) and was first introduced in 1937.

When was spam invented? ›

The first unsolicited bulk email was reportedly sent in 1978 by Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager promoting a new model of computer. Thuerk pitched to roughly 400 prospects via ARPANET, a forerunner to the modern internet, and reaped $13 million in sales for his company.

How did spamming originate? ›

1988 “Spamming” starts as prank by participants in multi-user dungeon games by MUDers (Multi User Dungeon) to fill rivals accounts with unwanted electronic junk mail. 1993 First use of the term spam was for a post from USENET by Richard Depew to news.

What was the first spam message? ›

May 3rd, 1978: a guy named Gary Thuerk. He was the marketing manager at Digital Equipment Company. Sent what is widely recognized as the first spam ever — a message trying to sell computers. Only went to 300-some people who were on ARPANET, which eventually became the Internet.

What is spam in digital marketing? ›

Spam can be defined as unwanted messages that are mainly sent electronically. They are delivered without having been requested by the recipient. It is usually advertising. There are various types of spam, such as email spam or spam on social networks.

Why is it called spam? ›

The name Spam was derived from a contraction of 'spiced ham'. The original variety of Spam is still available today, acknowledged as the 'spiced hammiest' of them all. During WWII and beyond, the meat colloquially became known in the UK as an acronym that stood for Special Processed American Meat.

Why do we call it spam? ›

Email SPAM, also referred to as junk email or simply SPAM, is unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email, also known as “spamming.” The name comes from a Monty Python sketch, (watch it, below!) where the name of the canned pork product, SPAM, is annoying and unavoidable.

Who Invented Internet spam? ›

It seemed like a good idea at the time, back before junk e-mail even had a nickname, no less a place in computer history. "I knew I was pushing the envelope," says Gary Thuerk, who on May 1, 1978, sent out the first unsolicited mass e-mailing in history.

Did spam exist before email was popular? ›

The history of spam can be tracked back to 1864 when the very first unsolicited electronic messages are believed to have been transmitted as early as 1864, via telegraph. These messages were rather dubious investment offers sent to wealthy Americans.

What is spam example? ›

The definition of spam is to send out unsolicited mass marketing emails. When you send a million people an email to try to make money online by selling them a worthless product, this is an example of a time when you spam.

What is a spam Why has it become a big internet issue? ›

Spam email is a form of commercial advertising which is economically viable because email is a very cost-effective medium for the sender. If just a fraction of the recipients of a spam message purchase the advertised product, the spammers are making money and the spam problem is perpetuated.

Where is spam most popular? ›

The United States consumes the most Spam, followed by Korea. The average Hawaiian eats at least five cans of Spam a year.

How many kinds of spam are there? ›

Today, there are 13 different varieties of Spam — classic, less sodium, lite, hot & spicy, Black Pepper, Jalapeño, spread, singles, singles lite, hickory smoke, bacon, cheese, and roasted turkey. The Jalapeño and Black Pepper selections were introduced for Spam's 75th anniversary.

What is spam actually made of? ›

Spam is a canned cooked meat product made from ground pork and processed ham. The meat mixture is combined with preservatives and flavoring agents, such as sugar, salt, potato starch and sodium nitrite, and then canned, closed and vacuum-sealed.

What is a spam called? ›

What is Spam? Spam includes all forms of unwanted communications including, but not limited to: unsolicited calls or messages, Caller ID spoofing, robocalls, etc. Typically, spam is directed to large numbers of users for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.

What was the origination for the term spam in email marketing? ›

The act of sending unsolicited messages in the 20th century was named after “Spam,” a food product that is stereotypically thought of as being disliked by many. Distributed by Hormel and sold around the globe, Spam is precooked and canned spiced ham (thus the abbreviation “Spam”) and was first introduced in 1937.

What are the two types of spam? ›

Four Common Types of Spam and Tips to Identify Them
  • Phishing. Phishing is the most common form of spam. ...
  • Vishing. Vishing is similar to phishing, except it happens over the phone. ...
  • Baiting. Baiting, similar to phishing, involves offering something enticing in exchange for your login information or private data. ...
  • Quid Pro Quo.
Oct 8, 2020

What is spam risk? ›

Spam Risk, then, is the term your carrier may use to warn you that it suspects the incoming call is unwanted. If you tend to get a lot of spam calls, it's probably worth your effort to heed the warning and ignore incoming calls marked this way.

Why is spam a problem for users? ›

Beyond the annoyance and the time wasted sifting through unwanted messages, spam can cause significant harm by infecting users' computers with malicious software capable of damaging systems and stealing personal information. It also can consume network resources.

How do spammers make money? ›

Spammers send out millions of messages on behalf of online merchants who want to sell a product. If a spam recipient buys something, the spammer gets a percentage of the sale. For pharmaceuticals the commission can be as high as 50%, and research has shown that the response rate can be rather high.

How do you control spam? ›

On an Android phone, you can disable all potential spam messages from Google's Messages app(Opens in a new window). Tap the three-dot icon in the upper right of the app and select Settings > Spam protection and turn on the Enable spam protection switch.

What is spam on social media? ›

Spam is any kind of unwanted, unsolicited digital communication that gets sent out in bulk. Often spam is sent via email, but it can also be distributed via text messages, phone calls, or social media.

What is spam only? ›

Only.Spams. An account solely dedicated to the sexy and delicious world of everything SPAM! 7 posts.

What is Spam actually made of? ›

It may come as a pleasant surprise to learn that SPAM is not the preservative-packed mystery meat you might think it is. In fact, SPAM only contains six ingredients! And the brand's website lists them all. They are: pork with ham meat added (that counts as one), salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite.

Who invented Spam? ›

It was the invention of Jay Hormel, son of George Hormel who founded the Hormel company, which pioneered canned pork products in Austin, Minn., in the late 1920s.

Why was Spam so popular in ww2? ›

When America entered the war, Spam became both the boon and bane of troops. Because it was so easy to transport in large quantities, and had a long shelf life, tons of it—ultimately more than 150 million pounds—accompanied them. Though the services purchased luncheon meats made by other companies, all looked alike.

What state eats the most Spam? ›

Hawaii consumes more Spam per capita than any other state, with five cans eaten per person per year—about 7 million cans total—according to Nicole L. Behne, a Spam senior product manager. It's time for the rest of America to catch up with Hawaii.

How many different types of Spam are there? ›

Today, there are 13 different varieties of Spam — classic, less sodium, lite, hot & spicy, Black Pepper, Jalapeño, spread, singles, singles lite, hickory smoke, bacon, cheese, and roasted turkey. The Jalapeño and Black Pepper selections were introduced for Spam's 75th anniversary.

Can Spam be frozen? ›

Can you freeze Spam? Yes, it is perfectly safe to freeze Spam. It is best to slice it and store only a few slices at a time. If frozen properly, Spam can last about three months, or even more.

How long is Spam good for? ›

How long can I keep spam in my pantry? While most canned foods will last indefinitely as long as the can is in good condition, canned meats retain their quality from two to five years. Kept in a cool, dark place, spam can be consumed indefinitely.

Who owns the Spam company? ›

SPAM® brand - Brands - Hormel Foods.

What did soldiers call Spam? ›

As Spam became an integral part of the GI diet, troops gave the meat a variety of nicknames like “ham that didn't pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” The grease from the luncheon meat was used to lubricate weapons and waterproof boots, and the empty cans could be filled with ...

Do soldiers eat Spam? ›

In each country where they were stationed, American soldiers introduced it to the locals, giving foreigners their first taste of Spam. Since then, Spam has become a sought-after product in many countries around the world, especially those that have faced economic hardship.

Why is Hawaii known for Spam? ›

The true root of the island's love for SPAM® products goes back to World War II, when the luncheon meat was served to GIs. By the end of the war, SPAM® products were adopted into local culture, with Fried SPAM® Classic and rice becoming a popular meal.

What is the Spam capital of the world? ›

Guam is the Spam capital of the world

The tiny US territory of Guam consumes more Spam per capita than anywhere else in the world - the average local scoffs an impressive 16 tins per year and Spam even features on the menus at McDonald's.

Does McDonald's in Hawaii serve Spam? ›

Melanie Okazaki, marketing manager for McDonald's Restaurants of Hawaii, said Spam has been offered at the chain's 75 island restaurants since 2002. “In Hawaii, it is a very popular menu item and we will continue to offer it to our customers,” she said.

Do they eat Spam in Japan? ›

Koreans eat it in stews, fry it in egg batter and even gift it as a Lunar New Year present. In Japan, Spam is used in onigiri (rice balls), and is served alongside eggs.


1. Spam: A History of Phishing
(The History Guy: History Deserves to Be Remembered)
2. Very Serious Business
(Internet Historian)
3. History of Spam: Part 1
4. SPAM | How did discarded pork become combat food? [ILLUSTORY]
5. The Whole Story: Spam [Aired May 2011]
6. 3rd May 1978: The world's first ‘spam’ email sent by Gary Thuerk of Digital Equipment Corporation

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