A recent McDonald’s SMS campaign has come under attack for failing to follow industry accepted best practice and allow subscribers to opt out by text of receiving further messages. Anna Montes super-sizes the story.
When: June 2007
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 26 July 2007
McDonald's has found that one of its SMS marketing campaigns has come under fire from the mobile marketing community. The campaign in question concerned the website for its new Toasted Deli Sandwich range. Visitors to the website were encouraged to subscribe to receive free daily SMS updates to their mobile phone which would alert them as to what the sandwich special was each day. The issue that attracted the attention of the mobile marketing community was that McDonald's decided to enable subscribers to opt-out of receiving such daily SMS alerts via its website but not through use of the 'STOP' command which has become the industry standard for mobile opt-outs.
In press responses, McDonald's has argued that the reason it wanted to direct subscribers to the internet for any opt-out requests rather than provide them with the option of opting out of further alters by being able to text 'STOP' was because McDonald's wanted to ensure they would not be charged for opting out and they argued that clear information as to how subscribers could opt out was made clear in advance. The mobile marketing community took a very different view however and it was widely believed that the McDonald's SMS campaign breached industry best practice and data protection legislation. The Direct Marketing Association held that the lack of such an SMS 'STOP' return path for mobile subscribers was against EC directives and industry guidelines and the Mobile Marketing Association also agreed that McDonald's was not adhering to best practice and therefore not protecting the consumer experience. It even seemed that the company running the campaign on behalf of McDonald's had tried to advise it that a 'STOP' command should be provided for to enable subscribers to opt-out of further messages but McDonald's had dismissed this option.
Perhaps due to all the media attention that the campaign attracted for all the wrong reasons, McDonald's has now introduced the industry standard SMS 'STOP' command so the campaign Subscribers now have the option to opt-out directly via return SMS as well as using the internet-based URL route already available.
Why this matters:
Advertisers who wish to conduct mobile marketing campaigns need to be aware of all applicable legislation and codes of practice as well as what is considered to be industry best practice. So far as industry best practice is concerned, the Direct Marketing Association and the Mobile Marketing Association are just two bodies that have created Best Practice Guidelines for their members and which seek to ensure such campaigns are run in a compliant way therefore increasing consumer confidence in mobile as a marketing media.
So far as the 'STOP' command is concerned, each mobile marketing message should give the recipient the opportunity to opt-out of receiving further mobile marketing communications and in compliance with data protection legislation, they should be able to exercise such an opt-out right with the minimum effort and cost possible. The Information Commissioner's Guidance for marketers on the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (the "Regulations") makes it clear that marketers must ensure that each message they send must identify the sender and provide a valid suppression address. Originally, the Information Commissioner took the view that only a postal or email address would be valid for the purposes of satisfying the Regulations but succumbed to lobbying from marketers who argued that a person is unlikely to write a formal letter and it would be easier for that person if they could text an opt-out back to a short code number given at the bottom of a message. This approach would also be more consistent with the accepted approach regarding valid addresses for email opt-out requests.
Short codes are now considered as a valid address for opt-out requests provided marketers ensure that:
1. the marketer clearly identifies itself in the message;
2. use of the short code does not incur a premium rate charge; and
3. the short code is valid at the time the marketing communication concerned is sent to consumers.
The suggested format for providing a short code for a opt-out mechanism is:
"[Marketers name]2STOPMSGSTXT'STOP'TO[5 digit short code]"
Even where the 'STOP' command is used within a campaign, advertisers should unsubscribe a recipient from a particular service where is it clear that their intention was to unsubscribe even if they have not followed the unsubscribe instructions set out in a marketing communication correctly (for example if they text "unsubscribe" instead of "STOP").
The criticism of the McDonald's campaign in the trade press recently has certainly reminded advertisers to think carefully about the construction of their mobile campaigns. The mobile industry is keen to ensure all marketers are legally compliant and adhere to best practice where the medium of mobile is used as it is still trying to build consumer confidence in mobile marketing following negative PR suffered in the last few years as a result of some mobile subscription services such as those offered by Jamster which lead to consumers feeling they were being misled.