So, it’s your first day back after a long break from your desk and, guess what, there are 500 or so emails in your inbox to be looked at – and mostly deleted. Apparently as much as 85% of all the email we receive can be classified as SPAM.

Which begs two questions; why do businesses keep sending it? And where does the term come from anyway?

Taking those in reverse order.

No, it doesn’t stand for ‘stupid, pointless, annoying messages’. Apparently the use of the term in connection with unsolicited commercial email (UCE for short) has its roots in a certain tinned luncheon meat and a famous Monty Python sketch. How so? The luncheon meat (possibly named after Spiced Ham, or possibly an acronym for Special Processed American Meat) kept a lot of people going during WW2 but along the way did not endear itself to many. The Python sketch is set in a greasy spoon cafe with a menu in which every single dish features spam (some with an extra side of spam).  As the scene unfolds, in spite of its lack of appeal the SPAM just keeps coming … so its easy to see why this was seen as a great analogy for unsolicited and unwanted email and hence why the term was first adopted by geeks around the world for this usage. So there you go.

More importantly, if nobody likes it why do businesses keep sending it? How does it make commercial sense? I suppose the answer to that is the same one as to why any marketer continues to use any channel – so long as the percentage responding, and converting, buy enough to generate a positive, incremental return why would they stop using it?

And email continues to deliver pretty consistently for most sectors. Looking at the most recent benchmarking report from the DMA most businesses can expect open rates of 11% on acquisition (20% on retention activity) and unique click-throughs of 3% (and 6%). Overall client’s report that for every pound spent on email marketing they generate a return of £24.93. That’s a ROI of 2,500%. Given that kind of bottom line, it’s easy to see why SPAM will continue to feature prominently on most marketers’ menus.

Source: DMA National Email Benchmarking Report 2012 and DMA National Client Email Report 2014