I once characterized a @Racewithinsulin Levemir branded tweet as “Sleazy Twitter Spam” (search Google on “race with insulin spam” and you’ll find this post). That got a lot of comments from people arguing that the tweet wasn’t technically “spam.”

Today, however, I learned about the new Novo Nordisk Race With Insulin sweepstakes campaign that is truly a spam e-mail campaign. In fact, it is a “chain e-mail spam campaign,” which is something I’ve never seen before.

As explained in this PMLive article, “the campaign features a website www.RaceWithinsulin.com hosting a competition inviting entrants to build a ‘pit crew’ by enrolling two friends by e-mail and be in with a chance of winning a VIP trip to the 2013 IndyCar finale and a Twitter feed.”

“Invite” is not the proper way to describe the entry rules (find them here), which REQUIRE entrants to provide “two (2) of your friends’ valid e-mail addresses.” The online entry form has four (4) fields for “friends” e-mail addresses (only 2 are required).

The “friends” receive e-mail “invitations” to “join the crew” by also filling out the entry form and providing two e-mail addresses of THEIR friends who will also receive e-mail “invites” so that those friends can apply and also “invite” two more friends, etc. etc. In other words, this is a “chain e-mail” campaign similar to the chain letters of yore, many of which were shady scams. In fact, in the United States, chain letters that request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants are illegal.

But the Novo Race With Insulin chain e-mails do not request “money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants.” However, they DO advertise Novo’s FlexPen diabetes treatments and are thus UNSOLICITED commercial e-mail; i.e., SPAM.

Of course, I signed up to enter the sweepstakes and provided two e-mail addresses of “friends.” I could have entered any one’s e-mail address WITHOUT their permission! But I entered two of my own alternate e-mail addresses so that Novo’s spam e-mail would only end up my e-mail inbox. Here’s what that e-mail message looked like:

(click on image for an enlarged view)

As you can see, this message is basically an advertisement for Levemir and NovoLog. It has all the fair balance/safety information required by the FDA for DTC ads, but as far as the recipient is concerned, it is unsolicited. The FDA doesn’t care about that, but maybe the FTC should review the legality of this campaign (i.e., whether it violates the CAN-SPAM law).

“This programme is a great way for people to show support, especially for friends and family affected by diabetes, and encourage them to share my story,” says Charlie.

Sorry, Charlie! This program is also a great way for people to participate in what I call a “chain e-mail spam campaign” that is designed to promote products, NOT to help people share stories.

P.S. One other troubling item: When you sign up and supply your friends’ e-mail addresses, Novo does not tell you that the e-mail “invites” that your friends will receive “MAY CONTAIN MATERIAL MARKETING OR ADVERTISING NOVO NORDISK PRODUCTS, GOODS, OR SERVICES.” The entry screen (see below) only refers to the e-mail messages YOU receive.

(click on image for an enlarged view)