Donald Trump’s Epic Spamming Scandal

Trump's Spamming Scandal

Donald Trump’s marketing team has created an epic spamming scandal — and the ultimate example of why buying email lists is a terrible idea.

Trump's Spamming Scandal

In addition to being illegal, buying email lists is a horrible marketing strategy. The Trump campaign has just given the world a perfect example of why you should never expect results when marketing to people who did not ask to be on your list. In short, sending emails to a bought list will send your email marketing effort into a downward spam spiral that will become increasingly difficult to reverse. As a result, even the folks who asked to hear from you will start getting your emails in their spam folders.

In the past several weeks, the Trump campaign has hit the gas on their active marketing efforts, which has included text alerts, email marketing and the launch of the tabloid website Based on confirmation from a consultant who was renting email lists to the Trump campaign, we know that Trump tried his luck with raising funds from folks who had not opted in to being on his email marketing list.

Are you wondering how the bought list strategy is working out for the Trump campaign? We break it down.

Trump got 16x as many spam complaints as Bernie Sanders

Starting in May, Trump was already getting significantly more spam complaints than the other active email senders in the presidential election. It’s pretty simple. People mark emails as spam when they receive an email without any recollection of opting in to get messages from the sender. Let’s take a look at how people reacted to emails from Trump, Sanders and Clinton:

  • Donald Trump sent 21 different email messages – 7.9% were marked as spam.
  • Bernie Sanders sent 272 different email messages – 0.5% were marked as spam.
  • Hillary Clinton sent 658 different email messages – none were marked as spam.

Especially in comparison to Sanders and Clinton, it is abundantly clear that Trump recipients perceived his emails as unsolicited targeting. There is no shortcut to building a good email list. Both Sanders and Clinton have been rallying political supporters for years (we covered their quiet cyber battle on our blog), and Trump attempted to make up for lost time. But unsolicited targeting (real or perceived) does not work. Recipients report emails as spam, which damages your sending reputation with email providers.

Trump’s first fundraising email had a 60% spam rate

On June 21, Trump sent his first fundraising email, cleverly named “The First One.” Compared to Hillary Clinton, who had been successfully raising funds via email for months, Trump was late to the party. So he blasted his list asking for donations to his campaign. The results were terrible. 60% of these initial emails ended up in recipient spam folders, which means that 60% of recipients never saw the emails. After all, when was the last time you mined your spam folder for an email that you weren’t expecting?  

But why did Donald Trump’s emails end up in the spam folder? There are lots of contributing factors that confounded to result in a sky-high spam rate, which include ineffective domain/IP warm up and a high incidence of historic spam reports. This is email deliverability 101, and the Trump campaign needs to get it under control if they want to run an effective email marketing program that drives donations.

If the Trump campaign wants their emails to stop going to spam folders, they need to stop sending emails to people who haven’t asked to be on their list. Those folks will continue to report his emails as spam, thereby continuing the cycle of Trump marketing emails being relegated to spam folders by email providers. The only way to break the cycle is for the Trump campaign to only email people who want to hear from them.

Trump’s sloppy, unsolicited list building strategy was elevated to the Federal Election Commission

On June 30, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had baffled international politicians by adding them to Trump’s fundraising email lists. Lawmakers in countries like the United Kingdom, Iceland and Australia all started receiving email solicitations for donations to the Trump campaign. Talk about casting a wide net. Sir Roger Gale, one of the recipients of the Trump emails, confirmed that most of the Conservative Party MPs in the United Kingdom had been targeted by the Trump campaign.

It is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions in connection with U.S. elections, making it somewhat puzzling as to why international politicians were added to Trump’s fundraising email distribution list. Complaints were filed with the Federal Election Commission, which raised flags with the political and legal communities. By the same token, an increase in spam reports by surprised recipients raised additional flags on the spam filters built by email providers.

Trump was fired (lol) by his email provider

Trump's Spamming Scandal

In early July, Trump was fired by one of his campaign’s email service providers, Adestra. Henry Hyder-Smith, CEO of Adestra, explained the reason for the sudden shutoff:  

“The email in question has raised serious security and legal concerns among Adestra and other industry leaders. If we believe that a client is misusing the platform or not adhering to the high standards to which Adestra is committed, we may exercise our contractual option to suspend their service from sending email while still allowing them access to our products and their data.”

So let’s break this down. First, the recipients of Trump’s emails were bothered enough to report his emails as spam. Then, combined with a drastic increase in email volume, those spam reports were prolific enough to result in email providers sending Trump’s emails to spam folders at an alarming rate. Finally, so many flags were raised that Trump’s email sending platform fired him.

The verdict on buying lists? It doesn’t work

It’s pretty clear that the Trump campaign’s foray into email marketing has resulted in deliverability results that are in line with an epic spamming scandal. Josh Marshall said it best:

“Trump’s sudden move from indifference to fundraising to maniacal fundraising has forced him to become perhaps one of the biggest spamming operations going at the moment.”


Original photo and icon credits: Leonardo Schneider, Redfin, Body Language Success, John Gurzinski, Leif Michelsen.

Like what you've read? Get Bizzy's best tips once a week.

No sales pitches, no games, and one-click unsubscribe.