Did Calling Junk Email "Spam" Hurt SPAM Sales?

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Hormel Foods introduced SPAM, a delicious portmanteau of “spiced ham,” in 1937. The use of the email term “spam,” on the other hand, is harder to trace. Internet legend says the term references a Monty Python sketch and comes from early chat-room banter. When Usenet administrator Richard Depew accidentally posted the same message to a discussion board 200 times in 1993, Joel Furr called it spam, and the term caught on.

Hormel probably wishes “spam” hadn’t become entrenched with such a negative meaning—the company lost a 2007 trademark lawsuit against a software company called Spam Arrest. In spite of the association with cash-strapped Nigerian princes and erectile dysfunction drugs, however, the canned meat titan isn’t hurting. Revenues shot up by 24 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and the company recently launched its first digital ad campaign, meaning we could be on the brink of getting spam for SPAM.

Excerpted from our 2013 Biggest Questions issue. Pick up a copy wherever brilliant/lots of magazines are sold, request a free issue, or check out our iPad edition.