An unsolicited text said “Hi John I urgently need to speak to you about your debts. We can contact your creditors straight away. Call now XXXXX (ToOptOutTxtNOto XXXXX)” The recipient and the ASA raised a total of four issues with this. Debt Line defended stoutly but did they succeed? Omar Bucchioni gets into credit.
Topic: Mobile marketing
Who: R G Debt Management t/a Debt Line
When: January 2011
Where: Advertising Standards Authority
Law stated as at: 31 January 2011
Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated an unsolicited text message sent by Debt Line, a company which “looks at your income and expenditure to find an affordable plan that suits you” www.debt-line.org.uk.
An unsolicited text message stated “Hi [recipient’s name] I urgently need to speak to you about your debts. We can contact your creditors straight away. Call now 0120XXXXXXX (ToOptOutTxtNOtoXXXXX)”.
One complainant queried whether the ad:
1. breached the Code because it was sent without their consent;
2. misleadingly implied that they had unpaid debts.
In addition and within its powers, the ASA raised other queries as to whether the ad:
3. was identifiable as a marketing communication;
4. made clear the identity of the advertiser.
What Debt Line had to say
Debt Line is a trading name of RG Debt Management Services Ltd. They said they had bought the database used for the campaign from a data provider and one of the conditions of their contract with the data provider was that they only received data where customers had explicitly consented to their details being shared with third parties.
Having received some complaints, Debt Line stopped sending text messages and followed up the data provider which was unable to provide evidence of consent from customers.
Debt Line stopped their partnership with the data provider and amended their procedures to ensure that they receive evidence of consent from data providers.
Debt Line believed the content of the message reflected what they believed to be the complainant’s situation (i.e. individuals who had been declined for a debt consolidation loan).
3. Marketing communication:
Debt Line believed the ad had made clear why the complainant had been contacted and that it invited consumers with debt problems to contact them for more information.
4. Identity of advertiser:
Debt Line said that their company name was listed as the sender of the text message and it contained a contact number. Consequently, they did not believe that their company name needed to be included in the body of the text message as well as the ad made clear that Debt Line was the advertiser.
What the ASA had to say
1. Consent: Upheld
Although Debt Line had an agreement in place with the data provider to the effect of only ‘opt in’ data should be supplied, they still had the responsibility to ensure that their database practices were up-to-date and complied with the Code, and that all necessary steps had been taken to ensure marketing communications were not sent to consumers who had asked not to receive them.
The test is: have Debt Line satisfied themselves that consumers had consented to receive marketing from third parties?
Since Debt Line could not show that the complainant had consented to receive third party marketing, the ASA decided that the text message breached the Code – i.e. CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 10.4, 10.4.2 and 10.13.3 (Database practice).
2. Misleading: Upheld
The message implied that the recipient had outstanding debts. Debt Line bought data about consumers who had been declined a debt consolidation loan. However, they had no evidence that the complainant had applied for a debt consolidation loan or had unpaid debts. Therefore the ASA decided that the ad was misleading and breached the Code – i.e. CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 and 3.7 (Misleading advertising).
3. Marketing communication: Upheld
It was not clear from the text of the message that the SMS was a marketing communication since it could imply that the recipient or their creditors had previously had contact with Debt Line, when that was not the case. The ASA decided that the ad was misleading and breached the Code – i.e. CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.1 (Recognition of advertising).
4. Identity of advertiser: Not upheld
The ASA has recognised that the “from” field of a text message formed part of the ad. Therefore, since Debt Line already had its name on the “from” field, they did not have to repeat it in the body of the message and therefore the message did not breach the Code from this point of view.
Why this matters:
A couple of points to take away from this adjudication:
Ensure with appropriate evidence that opt-in consent for marketing communications has been obtained before contacting individuals by text or email.
The commercial nature of a marketing text message must be clear enough so that consumers can recognise it as advertising.
The case is reported on the ASA website at http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2011/1/R-G-Debt-Management/TF_ADJ_49625.aspx.