I've heard some pretty complicated definitions of spam. But here's the central issue, and what it means for you as a marketer.
"I'm not a spammer -- I have a legitimate offer!"
"I'm not a spammer -- I didn't hide my identity!"
"I'm not a spammer -- I used a targeted list!"
These are all laments I've heard from email marketers who have had their mail servers crippled by email bombs, been booted by their ISPs or received a torrent of abuse from angry Internet users who received their advertising.
In reality, it doesn't much matter whether you think you're a spammer or not. What matters is what the recipient of your email thinks. That's the person who has the power to cause you trouble or ruin your company's reputation on the Internet.
It's true that most spammers are promoting get-rich-quick schemes, questionable health products, pornography or other seedy offers. And it's true that most spammers try to hide their identities so they won't lose their Internet access or wind up in court.
But the essence of spam lies in another direction: how the email list was built. If your list is made up of people who specifically asked to be on it, your list is an opt-in (permission-based or voluntary) email list. If you placed people on the list without their permission and then mailed to them, you are on dangerous ground. You're sending unsolicited commercial email (UCE). Chances are someone will regard you as a spammer.
Many Internet users resent spam because it invades their inbox (a very personal space) and hijacks computing resources. Some will retaliate. Count on it.
My recommendation is that you only rent opt-in
email lists and that you build your own lists on a voluntary basis. That's the best way to
stay out of trouble.