At 40, Email Marketing Has Never Looked Better

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The very first email marketing message was sent 40 years ago, in 1978. To be honest, it’s not a birthday we should really celebrate — because the very first commercial message sent via email (albeit in good faith) was also considered to be the very first spam email.

The man responsible for the first send, Gary Thuerk, quickly learned two very valuable lessons, which remain true to this day:

  1. Email is an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
  2. Spam is not tolerated.

Tiny List, Huge Success

While Thuerk’s send on behalf of the computer manufacturer Digital Computer Corp (DEC) only hit a tiny list, 400 names pulled from the ARPANET (a system that predates the Internet as most of us know it today), it drove a phenomenal amount of sales. Thuerk estimates the blast generated some $13 million in sales.

Despite this success, Thuerk also received many complaints — one included a message saying that his unsolicited email had used up all the disk space on the recipient’s computer (computers weren’t so powerful in 1978). Thuerk also received a call from an ARPANET representative and was made to promise never to send another unsolicited commercial message again.

Email Marketing: Changed for the Better

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that first commercial message was sent. Despite this, email is still an incredibly powerful marketing tool, and spam is still not tolerated.

Thankfully, inbox technology and regulation (let’s hear it for GDPR, everyone!) is winning the war against spam, and advanced email marketing tools are enabling marketers to send the right messages to the right people at the right time — and as a result, email marketing has never looked so good.

In fact, I believe we are entering a golden age of email marketing — an age where nearly every send is relevant, engaging and timely.


This, of course, presents a number of challenges for email marketers. While campaigns are no longer buried in spam, if your campaign is to stand out from the crowd, it simply needs to be better than the rest.

This means better targeting, better subject lines, better creative copy and better CTAs.

Are you up for the job of being a better email marketer?

So let’s raise a glass to Gary Thuerk as the father of email marketing. Yes, he made mistakes with his first send — but he saw the error in his ways and should be credited with the creation of the world’s most powerful marketing medium.

At 40, email marketing is looking pretty good for its age. Here’s to the next 40 years.

Written by

Marketing Strategist, Author of #BecomingTHEExpert, Content Marketing Trainer, and Cyclist. Check out my author profile:

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