The Orchard Agency, Melbourne Australia, eCommerce Email Marketing Specialist Agency


BACN, the Other Kind of SPAM

SPAM has long been considered public enemy #1 in the email marketing industry. But there is a new challenger to this crown that you may not yet be familiar with. Introducing BACN.

Pronounced “bacon”, the term was first coined in 2007 and was used to describe opt-in emails that were left unread for long periods of time.

Just like spam, bacn accumulates and clogs up a recipient’s inbox. However, the main difference between bacn and spam is that bacn is something the recipient has subscribed to receive, unlike spam where the sender has typically acquired an email address and emailed the recipient without their consent.

According to a recent article by Mashable, bacn accounts for almost 70% of a recipient’s delivered email and its growing occupation of inbox territory has had a direct and negative impact on industry-wide open rates.

In this article, we look at the current trends associated with bacn and steps marketers should be looking to take to combat open rate attrition.

The rise of bacn

Email’s combination of affordability, excellent reporting capabilities and speed-to-market has made it an attractive communication method for marketers.

This has resulted in an increased marketing spend on email in recent years. Marketing spend for email increased by 20% between 2009 and 2011. This is projected to increase by another 40% by 2014. This increase in spending has lead to an increase in email volume sent out.

However, this attraction has resulted in a deluge of email being sent out – in 2010 there were:

  • 27.4 billion bacn emails being sent everyday
  • 4 Bacn emails per day for every person on the planet
  • Bacn accounted for 70% of all email that reached a person’s inbox (up from 20% in 2007)

This influx of unread emails coincides with a decline in industry-wide open rates. Marketing consultancy firm, Harte-Hanks reported a steady decline in industry average open rates, citing a rate of 26% in 2009, which fell to 17% in 2010.

Because more and more emails are being sent, it is getting increasingly harder for marketers to generate visibility for their own campaigns, as everyone is jostling for the reader’s attention.

In short, subscribers are experiencing email fatigue and a majority of emails landing in a person’s inbox simply get left unread.

In order to maintain a healthy email-marketing programme, it is important to understand how readers deal with bacn.

How people manage bacn

Although spam is a nuisance, the reality is that it is now far less likely to appear in the inbox due to more sophisticated spam filtration software.

Spam hit it’s peak around 2002-2003 and since then has seen a rapid decline equating to less than 2% of emails reaching a recipient’s inbox.

Conversely, bacn has seen quite the opposite and requires recipient’s to actively manage their inbox to stay on top of the email influx.

Below are the most common methods of bacn management amongst recipients:

(Statistics supplied by

  • 61% of bacn is deleted, left alone to accumulate or goes through some kind of filtration process that removes it from the inbox.
  • 14% is reported as spam.
  • 7% will take the time to go through the unsubscribe process.

Email programs such as Outlook and Gmail offer automatic rules and filters that recipients can setup to manage their inbox. Many of these filters are setup to either shift the email into another folder or simply delete them from the inbox. The concern for marketers is that their emails could potentially get caught in these filters and the message will never appear in the inbox. Emails stored outside of the inbox are rarely ever read.

Webmail services like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail pay a lot of attention to bacn. After all, they provide free hosting of emails and would look at any opportunity to reduce unread messages.

What you can do to combat the effects of bacn

There is no way to prevent someone from managing their inbox or reversing the rules and filters they have setup, but there are steps marketers can implement to reduce the likelihood of their emails getting classed as bacn.

Stay Relevant – This is one of the most important principles of email marketing. A newsletter shouldn’t be sent for the sake of just sending a newsletter. It should have a purpose and importantly, value, for your recipients. Nothing is more damaging to your brand and your future email marketing efforts than sending content that has little to no value to your subscriber base.

The best way to ensure relevancy is to go back to your past campaigns and analyse your reporting to see which pieces of content worked best. High click-through rates are a good indicator of interest.

Clean Your List – the average email list experiences a churn rate of anywhere between 20 to 30 percent. These represent the hard bounces, unsubscribes or spam complaints. In most cases, these are easily managed by your email-marketing platform.

However, often lists accumulate recipients that do not fall into the above categories, but consistently never open or click on any of the emails delivered.

List cleansing should be an integral part of your email marketing program. We suggest an annual audit of your list, flagging recipients with no recorded open or click through activity over the past 12 months.

These non-engaged (Bacn) members are affecting your overall campaign results and will eventually impact your sender reputation.

Remember that a good email marketing list is about quality not quantity so don’t fall into the trap of chasing list growth at the expense of a smaller, but more engaged audience. Your open and click-through rates will thank you for it.

Differentiate your automated notification email address from your marketing address – An email address is a popular method to apply an email filter or rule.

If you frequently send notification emails such as alerts or account updates, it is important you differentiate your notification email address from your marketing address.

This can potentially help avoid your marketing messages from being automatically moved from the inbox and into a folder, where the email will unlikely be read.

Send at optimal times of the day – The biggest problem with bacn is having your email buried underneath all the other emails that bombard a recipient’s inbox.

Therefore, finding out when your audience is most likely reading their emails is important, as this allows you to coordinate a send so that your email can potentially appear at the top of a recipient’s inbox where visibility is greatest.

Determining when the ideal day and time to send is largely dependant on your audience. Try sending your next newsletter to small segments of your overall list and monitor the open and click through activity. By experimenting with different days and times, you’ll eventually find the optimal time to send.


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