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Market Legal: Auto Dealer Strategies for CASL & CAN-SPAM Laws


Every automotive marketing manager in the United States and Canada should know about CASL and CAN-SPAM. Those alphabet-soup laws hold major consequences if not followed.

CAN-SPAM was passed in America back in 2003, and Canada put its stricter cousin CASL into law in July 2014. Both put the burden of responsibility on the sender of marketing communications, but you’ll see that inbound marketing actually makes these laws much easier to follow.

Acronym Breakdown: What are CASL and CAN-SPAM?

I’d like to start with a really important note: I’m a marketing project manager, not a lawyer. So while I’ve done a lot of research into this subject for the purpose of this article and work with my own clients, I can’t stress enough that my research does not replace legitimate legal counsel.

If you’re an auto dealer in either the United States or Canada, you should work with a lawyer to maneuver this legislation. I, however, am glad to act as a resource for marketing your services legally.

Now that we’re clear on that, let’s take a look at what the legislation actually says.

CASL stands for Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, and it restricts the sending of any commercial electronic message, including emails, texts, and instant messages.


You can only send messages to people who have an active business relationship with you, those who publish their email on a website with no conditions, or those have “relevant” business activities to you.

Under CASL, your auto dealership can use form submissions to gather emails, but you should know that people can unsubscribe at any time — and you have to give them a way out.

The law follows America’s CAN-SPAM law and similar laws in Europe, which were passed in response to nefarious marketing tactics. The sale of email addresses, phone numbers, and even social media accounts are increasingly common as digital marketing becomes more popular. But any good dealership owner knows you won’t find quality leads through spam.

Penalties for violating the CASL act can cost businesses up to $10 million, which means your Canadian dealership should learn the law and market your vehicles accordingly.

Further south, American marketers must follow the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, understandably shortened to CAN-SPAM.

Personally, I take issue with Congress lumping marketing with non-solicited pornography, but there is something violating about an unsolicited mass email invading your inbox.

As the incredibly long name explains, CAN-SPAM restricts commercial messages. Auto dealerships must identify themselves as the message sender, provide their contact information clearly, and make it easy for a user to unsubscribe.

CAN-SPAM is less severe than CASL, but it is just as costly. For every single email violating CAN-SPAM, you face a $16,000 fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Think about the number of contacts you last emailed and multiply that number by $16K. Compliance isn’t really optional, is it?

Work Smarter, Not Harder, with Inbound Marketing

Expensive penalties are enough to make every auto dealership follow CASL and CAN-SPAM. There’s no reason to throw that money away on fines when you could be using it to profit your dealership. But that’s not the only benefit.

These laws push your auto dealership to get express permission before reaching out to a person via email or text, which is something dealers should be doing anyway.

Inbound marketing encourages meaningful relationships — not spammy emails sent to an illicit, third-party-collected list of names. If anything, these privacy laws restrict only the worst outbound marketing tactics.

The following are a few of the strategies we’ve developed for auto dealerships working with CASL and CAN-SPAM laws.

Optimize Your Emails

Because the majority of the focus on both laws is on email messaging, you need to make sure those are optimized.

Ensure your valid, physical address is included in every email you send out, and provide a very clear and functional way to opt out of your email subscriptions. And you have to honor that. There are legal ramifications for marketing to someone who manually opted-out of your messaging. (Expensive ones.)


You should also use personal “to” and “from” fields when you’re sending an email. Not only does this bring you into legal compliance, it also makes your email more likely to be opened.

Finally, be clear with your message. Deceptive advertising or false subject lines will cost you big-time in both the U.S. and Canada (see above if you’ve already forgotten about those hefty fines).

You might be wondering what constitutes as “deceptive advertising.” Although that’s a bit of a gray area, you should always err on the side of clarity. If your email’s subject line says, “Save $1,000 on Your Next Car,” make sure the offer doesn’t have so many restrictions that no one is eligible.

Create an Opt-Out Option

With CASL, it’s essential to reach out to your customer within the two-year legal time limit. This goes for Canadian businesses as well as any American businesses emailing Canadians.

There are two types of consent: express and implied. Express means the person consented to receive messages from you — enough said; there’s no more to do here but continue to nurture this relationship.

Implied consent, however, comes about when you had some sort of transaction. The person bought a car from you, requested a trade-in value, or got service at your dealership. This action gives you the freedom to email them for two years. But after that, you need their consent.

At 9 Clouds, we use an automated workflow system to reach out to our clients’ customers within this two-year timeframe, giving them the chance to opt in to promotional emails.

A lot of dealerships get wrapped up in the number of contacts lost by this method, but we don’t take it personally. A contact who manually opts out truly isn’t worth your precious time. You can use that energy to focus on people who are actually interested in your cars and trucks. After all, it’s not about the quantity of leads — it’s about the quality.

Build an Inbound Connection Before Time’s Up

We encourage any auto dealership — in either the United States or Canada — to focus on nurturing leads well before the two-year mark. You’re not doing your dealership any favors if you don’t reach out to contacts until the implied consent deadline has nearly expired or in the few days before a lease ends.

Inbound marketing requires time and effort, but it also builds up a relationship of trust between your dealership and customers.

Take some time and check out our resources specifically for auto dealers to learn how to nurture those leads over the long haul. It’ll improve your overall marketing and make compliance with these marketing laws a piece of cake.

Full-Service Auto Dealer Strategies

All digital marketing managers for auto dealerships should learn the ins and outs of CASL and CAN-SPAM to maintain legal responsibility. You just can’t afford to risk breaking these communication laws.

When you work with 9 Clouds, we take care of the hard work, from the very smallest details in your email communications to the overall goals of nurturing your leads.

Read through some of the blog posts our current auto clients have found most useful:

When you’re ready to find out the potential for your dealership’s website, let us know. We can do a free digital audit and show you where there’s room for you to grow.


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