Mobile Marketing Mindlessness

by Chris Kenton on August 7, 2006

This is the kind of thing that just drives me insane–that proves to me just how stupid and short-sighted businesses and marketers can be, or worse, how cynical.

A few years ago, when the complaints about spam reached enough of a pitch to reach the ears of legislators, many businesses, and associations like the DMA, took positions that did not reflect what consumers (their customers) wanted. At first they said we don’t need no stinking regulations, there is no problem with spam, and then when it was obvious congress had to do something to look like it was listening to constituents, they got into the lobbying act to craft regulations that still let them send unsolicited mail. (And boy, did that CANSPAM act hobble spammers…)Today, the estimates are that 80% of *all* email is spam. Market-research firm Ferris Research tallied the cost of spam in 2005 at $17 billion in the
United States and $50 billion worldwide, reflecting lost productivity, costs to purchase and administer anti-spam systems,
and time wasted dealing with spam with legitimate
messages mistakenly tagged as spam.

Now, spam is reaching into Text Messaging. But there’s a twist. You pay for it. Since most mobile carriers charge by the text message (often 10-cents per message), unless you buy a bulk texting plan, you have to pay for every spam message you receive. And guess what? The carriers don’t think this is a problem. Not only do they not have robust systems in place for blocking spam, they don’t have other, more obvious systems in place to let you determine who gets to send you a 10-cent COD text message.

Here’s an outtake from David Lazarus’s column at the Chronicle:

Most wireless companies focus their filtering efforts on known spammers.
Customers are typically given the option of blocking messages from specific
senders.

This, of course, leaves the door open for other spammers to get through 
–  at 10 cents a pop for cell-phone customers without costlier plans that
accommodate more text messages.

The more consumer-friendly approach would be for all text messages to be
blocked except for those from senders given a green light by individual
customers  –  a "safe list" that could be regularly updated online by the
wireless customer.

That way, you’re charged only for the messages you send and the ones you
want to receive. Everything else falls by the wayside.

Not one major wireless company gives customers this option, although
Cingular offers a service that blocks all text messages except those sent to a
separate address created by the subscriber. 

Laura Marriott, executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association, an
industry group, said such a system is unnecessary because of various safeguards
already in place, such as spam filters and guidelines for association members
that consumers "opt in" before receiving any text messages.

"We have done an extraordinary job as an industry to protect consumers
from spam," she said.

It’s nice to know the MMA cares so much about consumers. Let’s take a little walk over to the Mobile Marketing Association Web site, shall we? If we go to the "About MMA" page, we find a mission statement:

The
Mobile Marketing Association is an action-oriented association designed
to clear obstacles to market development, to establish standards and
best practices for sustainable growth, and to evangelize the mobile
channel for use by brands and third party content providers.

MMA
members include agencies, advertisers, hand held device manufacturers,
wireless operators and service providers, retailers, software and
services providers, as well as any company focused on the potential of
marketing via the mobile channel.

And if we look at the board of directors we find a nice representative sample of major carriers, entertainment companies and agencies. Browse the rest of the site, and you’ll find tons of case studies, research papers, and statistics that show the tremendous potential of reaching out to customers on their mobile devices. The MMA has been very busy. And oh, hey, here’s a section for Consumers! Whoops. "Coming Soon". Consumer Information? "Coming Soon". MMA Consumer Initiatives? "Coming Soon". Yes, consumers carry a lot of weight at the MMA.

So here we have a problem that we have seen before. Spam. It causes us enough headaches that we have created a very successful industry that gladly accepts our money to stop it. It took us 7 years to get that far. Now we have the same problem cycling up to tackle one of the fastest growing new messaging platforms. But instead of building an industry to block text spam, we’ll now pay the carriers directly for every message they don’t see the need to filter. Hmmm. Is that an incentive for the carriers to get into the spam business themselves? And finally, we have an industry association that in the press proclaims its righteous dedication to protecting consumers, even while saying that implementing measures to protect you and me from paying for ads we don’t want is not really very reasonable. I’m so glad they’re thinking of us.

Look. If you’ve read my columns or blogs long enough, you know I’m pro business. I’ve done a lot of work with carriers, and I love the products they develop. You also know I’m pro marketing. I see tremendous potential in Mobile Marketing, and think a lot of the work the MMA produces is fantastic. But I’ve also seen plenty of stupidity from carriers and marketers, and you always know it’s coming when you hear them pronounce what is good for customers. Because it never is. When. When. When will these people figure it out?

If the MMA was half the industry association it should be, it would not be bowing down to the carriers and carrying their water in the press, but would be challenging them to create a sustainable market practice that would not be blowing up on the front pages of major newspaper a year down the road, with calls in Congress to establish "Do Not Text" lists. This is called self-regulation, people. It’s how we avoid having customers sue us, governments regulate us, and competitors eat our lunch with an alternative that, ~gasp~ gives consumers what they actually want.

I know, I know, that takes discipline and the sacrifice of all that cash they can make today by charging customers for spam. So instead, we’ll get to watch this whole thing play out like it always does. I predict class action law suits emerging in 8-12 months. Major news coverage of Text Spam in 12-18 months. Calls for legislation in 18-24 months, just in time for the next major election cycle. And accurate tallies of all the money we’ve wasted beginning in 2 years. That’s when the investment will pick up in anti-text-spamming products. Buy your domains now.   

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave J. August 7, 2006 at 1:32 pm

My first three text-messages (all came last month) were spam. So right out at the start, I’m going to ignore all text messages and assume they are spam. They’ve already blown it!

(Or at least until my kids are old enough to type with their thumbs and pay for their own phones.)

And it sucks that you are right that this will take years to play out an attempted fix.

SMS Text News August 7, 2006 at 4:15 pm

Text Spam: Mobile Marketing Mindlessness

Link: Marketonomy: Mobile Marketing Mindlessness. Christopher Kenton of Marketonomy lays into the operators and the Mobile Marketing Association about the subject of text spam. Text spam used to be a huge issue in the United Kingdom — you used to

Mike Moore August 8, 2006 at 12:37 pm

The possibilities are endless when you think about a single carrier having 40 or 50 million users. It mimics something along the lines of how a major social network (which I wont mention) is having trouble monetizing its users so instead it throws everything it has a them in every direction because the parent company that bought them is not satisfied with its return on such a large group of people. Much like the text/sms messages it has become common place for desperate marketing managers to see a large number of users and automatically assume a HUGE return.

I too have fallen victim of text spamming to the point of calling up my carrier (starts with a V and ends in a izon) and letting the poor girl on the other end have it because I was (and this is for real) receiving a spam text every 20 mins….oh this did not stop after 9pm it just got worse. Anyways I told them how many text messages I got a month and they instantly refunded me all my money. Consequently I disconnected my text messaging package which I had never used and later that year changed my number.

The steps we have to take…

I too feel there is a great potential for mobile messaging but needs to have an implicit option for all users to receive text messages from a group or carrier. I have a feeling we are going to start seeing an explicit “not responsible” clause in our mile long phone contracts.

Hey, maybe we should have David Lazarus call Michael Finny and put the radio, TV, and newspaper hurting out text spamming (JK!)

Too bad it looks like we will spend the better part of this decade trying to resolve the whole we dug.

Cheers all.

LeOgAhEr June 1, 2007 at 9:43 am

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