CMOR is always looking for ways to prove that survey research is not commercial speech. Recently, an opportunity arose for us to make this claim through a regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In August, the FTC solicited public comment on how to implement and enforce the CAN SPAM Act. The first point we raised was the idea that our profession does not qualify as "commercial" under the definitions written into CAN SPAM's framework.
Because survey research does not involve sales, advertising, or any other form of commercial speech, we wanted to remind the Commission that survey research should not be implicated in CAN SPAM, nor should the agency's regulations be written in a way that could potentially jeopardize the rights of our profession.
This was the angle that we fully expected to take when we wrote our comment. However, a stroke of luck occurred while poring over the FTC's "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," an explanation of which aspects of CAN SPAM the Commission sought comment on, and the rationale behind why they wanted such comments.
As it turns out, the FTC had relied on survey research itself in formulating its impressions of SPAM! "Although it is impossible to identify every industry that sends commercial e-mail messages," the Commission wrote, "…some surveys suggest that an ever-increasing number are using the Internet." A later segment of the Notice again mentioned the use of survey research in determining how often businesses communicate via e-mail.
If the FTC regarded survey research as "SPAM," they never would have relied on survey research to explore the problems posed by "commercial e-mail," i.e., SPAM. Therefore, our profession cannot possibly be SPAM. This presented a perfect segue to our main point: Survey research is not commercial in any context, a point proven by the Commission's own approach to CAN SPAM.
In conclusion, we simply pointed out to the FTC that they already inherently see survey research as non-commercial in nature. We then urged the Commission to rule on CAN SPAM in a manner that does not jeopardize the non-commercial status of survey research. Given the Commission's own existing acknowledgement to that effect, we fully anticipate a favorable ruling.
Then, CMOR and the survey research profession would have another weapon to use in our collective quest to prove the complete non-commercial status of survey research in all legal and legislative contexts.