King of the CASL

Photo credit: Ian Woo |

On July 1, 2014 the Canadian Anti-SPAM legislation (CASL: pronounced like “castle”) went into effect, with three years for marketers to comply by the regulations or potentially face hefty fines and penalties. In the weeks leading up to it and subsequently,  Canadians have been bombarded with stiff “we require your consent” emails that read a little like what you’d imagine your lawyer might cough up if they ever gave copywriting a whirl.

CASL Mitch Joel

Consumers and marketing legends like Mitch Joel all agreed on one thing: there’s an Alanis-grade irony to the spamminess of all the cookie-cutter consent emails that are meant to protect us from SPAM in the first place. Asking for consent without thinking about the experience you’re providing, the opportunity to build a connection, or the relationship you’re building is like… knocking on someone’s door to ask if they don’t mind if you occasionally knock on their door and ask for things(!!) It may be legally necessary for us, but to our audience it’s a pointless waste of their precious time. Unless we actually make it worth their while.

With 2.5 years more to go before the CASL stakes really kick in, we’ve put together a short primer to:

  1. Explain what CASL is and why it’s important
  2. Show you some of the best Consent-requesting email examples we’ve seen
  3. Give you some tips on how to turn eat-your-vegetables CASL compliance into meaningful, meaty touchpoints with your customers

1. What is CASL, and Why is it so Important?

Chances are, if you’re a Canadian marketer, you’ve heard of CASL by name many times, and if you’re not you’ve just noticed companies asking for your “consent” a lot more frequently and awkwardly (at checkout, in your inbox, on the phone…) In fact, the greatest CASL crime is that many marketers addressed their audiences as though this was an isolated conversation, forgetting that it was, and will continue to be, contextualized as part of a much larger discussion between many businesses to many of the same customers. While most of this post focuses on consent-related aspects of CASL, it’s important to understand the bigger picture around the legislation.

SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, baked beans, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM and SPAM.   Photo credit: Mike Mozart


Age of consent

Skip this section to get straight to some great examples and tips, but for those of you who need to brush up, here are some quick facts:

  • CASL impacts any business based in Canada, or outside of Canada with recipients within Canada.
  • There’s a 3-year grace period from the July 1, 2014 date to establish compliance measures before fines and penalties will come into play (with a sticker shock maximum of $10 Million)
  • Individuals, corporations and other organizations can report CASL violations to the Spam Reporting Centre (SRC). Under CASL, reports will be managed by three enforcement agencies: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Competition Bureau, and Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
  • According to the CASL FAQ, between July 1, 2014 and January 6, 2015 about 5,000 complaints have been submitted using the online form and over 200,000 reports have been made by email (that’s a whole lot of SPAM!)
  • The three key areas to understand are: Identity, Subscription, and Consent.
    • Identity: the sender needs to be clearly identified and physical mailing addresses need to be included in every commercial email.
    • Subscription: there must be an unsubscribe link and simple process to allow anyone to opt-out in every email.
    • Consent: implied or express consent needs to be given by your audience to keep messaging them, including people you’ve already gathered on your lists at any point in the past. Adding an opt-in mailing option that is unchecked by default on your forms and putting a double opt-in process to validate and confirm subscription are two ways to obtain explicit consent from new subscribers. But from existing users that may not have provided documented consent, your best option is a drip campaign over the next two years to target non-consenters with great emails (more on that later), and filter consenters out of that list as they confirm subscription onto your active mailing lists. Since the rest of this post is largely about confirming consent, it’ll be good to get a handle on what CASL means by that. The diagrams below help to distinguish between the content and consent aspects of CASL and exceptions to the two, as well as differences between implied versus express consent.
CASL Consent Flow Chart

Exceptions 3


For more on CASL, check out this informative video for a clear overview. It was made by the awesome team at SimplyCast, but bear in mind that all major Email Marketing Systems provide CASL-compliant solutions.

2. CASL Consent Emails that Don’t Suck

As the deluge of awful copy/paste “we need your consent” emails reached its peak, marketers across Canada emailed each other desperately asking, “Have you seen a CASL email that doesn’t suck?!” Sadly there weren’t many, but we queried a professional group here in Montreal and pulled together our favourite examples of simple, effective, consent-requesting emails that restore our faith in humanity.

Kick-ass CASL Consent Examples

Company: S-Trip

S-Trip CASL Email
S-Trip offers entry into a swag bag sweepstakes to incentivize opt-ins.

What we like about it:

  • Clear, simple, conversational copy that “speaks” to us.
  • They link to the CASL site so we can get more information and understand this is a matter of protocol.
  • They offer a swag bag sweepstakes as an incentive for us to resubscribe.
  • The nice big “YES” call-to-action (CTA) button and resubscription process was obvious and easy.
  • They remind us about the unsubscription option in case we want to remove ourselves from the list in future.
  • They make it clear that unsubscribing does not impact booking-related auto-emails and reminders.

What could be improved:

  • Personalization: “Hey there!” isn’t making the most of customization options their email marketing system or customer relationship management solution no doubt provides.
  • Design: It draws you into that “YES” button for higher conversion rates, but the layout could be more mobile-friendly.


Company: WestJet

WestJet CASL Consent Email
WestJet makes with the FOMO

What we like about it:

  • Again, very simple, short, clear and persuasive copy.
  • They reiterate the value of staying on the list (to receive special offers and seat sales) several times and give us a sense of FOMO-like urgency to staying on-board.
  • Like S-Trip, they also incentivize resubscription with a high-value contest, and reinforce subscription will allow them to keep sending us contests like this.
  • Personalization: the use of Dynamic “first name” tags helps make a better connection from the outset.
  • Nice use of preview text above the main content area so even in the inbox listing it grabs our attention if we care about flight deals (and who doesn’t?)

What could be improved:

  • The CTA could use a bit more negative space/breathing room to help it stand out more. Presently it’s oddly placed.
  • Once again, a mobile-friendly layout would help those of us on-the-go.



Reverse Psychology Opt-in
I see what you’re doing there… A lil reverse psychology, eh?

What we like about it:

  • Acknowledges the plethora of other similar emails invading our inboxes.
  • Reverse psychology is a tricky move, but if you’re gonna do it, marketing to marketers is a good place to give it a go. In the midst of all the “Please consent” emails, one with the subject line “DO NOT CONSENT to receiving emails from us” reinforced by the preview text stood out and piques our curiosity.
  • Relevant, quality, related content suggested in the right sidebar.
  • Acknowledgement in the PS that the location in their list could have wrongly flagged us as Canadian, with other suggested content.
  • Clear indication of how infrequently he emails us and how he values our subscription and time.

What could be improved:

  • The content is great, but the design reminds us of a fugly PowerPoint template from the 90s. Sadface.
  • The CTA could be graphical and more apparent than a standard URL.
  • The intro copy is a little long and clumsy at making the journey from the self-referential “DO NOT CONSENT” subject line to the actual request.


Company: Social Media Breakfast Montreal

Fwd Stay Connected with the SMBMTL beholdenproductions Gmail


What we like about it:

  • “Canadian Anti-SPAM Legislation Mumbo Jumbo” is the best preview text yet.
  • Similar to the example, as SMBMTL is marketing to marketers they’ve taken a similar self-referential and humorous take on the copy. We love how honestly they position themselves as not quite knowing how CASL impacts them (as a non-profit they may be exempt for certain activities).
  • We LOVE that they created a dedicated hashtag. In the face of CASL fatigue it’s a welcome laugh, social media marketers need a little #hashtagtherapy now and then…
  • They clearly reinforce the value of being on the list (hearing about upcoming events) and use this message as an opportunity to announce a save-the-date for the next event.
  • The most mobile-friendly design of the lot!

What could be improved:

  • It would’ve been nice to play off of the unsubscribe button hashtag with a visual/graphical CTA within the email body content itself. It would be a great extension of the meta nature of the copy to tie it all together.

3. Tips for Campaigning Around CASL

If the examples above have shown us anything, it’s that even when we have a drab utility behind messaging our customer base and leads, we should make it relevant, interesting and useful for them. A mandatory step is still an opportunity to connect, and yet the average CASL consent email left us rolling our collective eyes. With another 2.5 years to go, we can be sure we’ll continue to see good, bad, and downright ugly CASL practices as the clock ticks down. Make sure you’re among the best by following these tips…


  1. CASL impacts B2B and B2C companies, as well as non-profit organizations all slightly differently. Consult with legal and marketing professionals to ensure you understand the full implications for your day-to-day.
  2. Ensure your EMS and CRM solutions are configured to request, track, and retain opt-ins, consent confirmation, and clear, simple unsusbcribe processes.
  3. Update all your email templates to ensure your identifying information (reply-to) and physical address are clearly indicated.
  4. Make sure future subscribers and lists are set up to indicate express consent on forms and at other touchpoints (e.g. checkout at a store location.)
  5. Create multiple lists, and manage existing subscribers who have yet to resubscribe/provide consent through a longtail drip campaign to extend until CASL comes into full effect (~2.5 years from now). Plot out a strategy and calendar of opportunities and offers to uniquely position to the list of yet-to-re-opt-in subscribers with continual incentivization every couple of months to resubscribe.
  6. Here’s a really handy CASL checklist from the good folk at ReturnPath that’ll help you in all your compliance efforts.

Consent Email Tips

  1. Somewhere between 40-70% of emails are first opened on a mobile device depending on your market. Optimize your email templates for mobile, especially for re-opt-in requests. If we’re going to ask for something, we better make it look like it belongs where our end-user is browsing. Make sure the design generally looks great, too.
  2. Make good use of the subject line and preview text to give a sense of urgency and communicate an incentive to open the email and click-through to resubscribe.
  3. Use short, clear, personable copy with dynamic customization (e.g. first name) to speak to your audience effectively.
  4. Present the value-add of being on the list. But show, don’t tell: using this mailing to communicate the important, valuable information you usually do to list members (e.g. upcoming events) or use special promotions (e.g. contests, giveaways, discounts, coupons, secret sales) to incentivize re-opt-ins with something special if they recommit to your list.
  5. Use a clear, graphical CTA and give it some breathing room.
  6. Stay true to the voice of your brand: if you usually use humour then employ it here, if you’re glamorous be glam, and so on.
  7. Use a strong PS line to reinforce your messaging or offer other key information.

Do you have any questions, other great examples you’ve seen or tips for CASL compliance? Let us know in the comments, and happy marketing!

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