Spam is a pain to deal with. It clogs up your mailbox, brings down mail servers, and can harbor viruses and malware. As much of a hassle spam is to deal with, at least it brings the promise of excitement and adventure.
How do I know this? Because most of the spam I get has subjects that end with an exclamation mark. To me, that spells excitement! (See?)
Here’s just a small sampling of some of the subject lines from the last messages to wind up in my spam folder:
“Boost Your Immune Health! Wherever you go!”
A portable immune health booster? We really are in the future! But where’s my flying car?
“Free Auto Insurance Quotes!”
If any subject line deserved an exclamation point, it definitely should be one that talks about auto insurance.
“Hello! I have found useful info about you…”
The exclamation mark gets my attention, like it’s from an old friend. But it’s really the “…” at the end that makes this one intriguing. What type of adventure and intrigue lies in wait for me if I respond to THIS email?
Opportunities like those above weren’t extended to you in a daily basis this way back in the early days of the Internet. Back in those pre-historic days, (1978, to be exact) most messages passed back and forth had to do with routing protocols and system upgrades. That’s because the Internet of the time (at least the part in the United States) was called the ARPANET and was set up as part of a U.S. Department of Defense project involving distributed networking.
No, the type of spam you were most likely to see back in 1978 was….well, actually, you weren’t going to be seeing any spam back because it didn’t exist yet. At least until one day in May, when a gung-ho marketer from Digital Electronics Corporation (DEC) got the bright idea to advertise their latest computer model to a captive audience on the ARPANET.
That historic day in May, Gary Thuerk, a marketing employee at DEC, was responsible for sending the first commercial spam. Unwanted system wide messages had been sent before on the Arpanet, but this was the first message that advertised a product.
Thanks to the Internet, nothing can ever be forgotten again, so we still have a copy of that ground breaking piece of electronic communication:
Mail-from: DEC-MARLBORO rcvd at 3-May-78 0955-PDT
Date: 1 May 1978 1233-EDT
From: THUERK at DEC-MARLBORO
DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T. THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE DECSYSTEM-10
And that was it. No tales of fabulous riches to be made for free, no secret Nigerian bank accounts, and certainly no way to increase your sex drive or manliness was included in this first spam. There wasn’t even an exclamation point in the subject line!
As a matter of fact, there WAS no subject line. That’s because Thuerk and the DEC engineer he was working with to compose the mail made a mistake and simply continued putting in the intended recipients email addresses in the subject fields.
So, instead of the first spam subject line being a great bargain or other unbelievable offer enticing the recipient to read the email, it read like this:
To: DDAY at SRI-KL, DAY at SRI-KL, DEBOER at UCLA-CCN,
To: WASHDC at SRI-KL, LOGICON at USC-ISI, SDAC at USC-ISI,
To: DELDO at USC-ISI, DELEOT at USC-ISI, DELFINO at USC-ISI,
But, like all good marketers, and the many spam marketers that would come after him, Thurerk knew that he had to have some kind of hook in his message. Something to entice people to come and look at the product he was selling.
How did he provide the sizzle to sell the steak?
Thurerk didn’t use any exclamation marks in his subject line (maybe they weren’t invented yet in 1978), but Thurerk still knew how to inject plenty of buzz into the final sentence of this historic spam:
IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.
That’s right. If Thurerk couldn’t convince you how exciting the subject of his spam with his copywriting skills, he was just going to come right out and say it. The DECSYSTEM-20 family was “exciting”.
It just doesn’t feel as exciting without the exclamation mark.
Want to see what all the excitement was about for yourself? You can request login access to a real live DEC-20 and other systems at the Living Computer Museum.
If you’re still having problems getting rid of spam or your customers’ spam, you can try GFI products such as GFI Mail Protection to help keep your customers spam excitement to a minimum.