SMS Marketing Disasters – and How to Avoid Them
Here at FastSMS, we passionately believe that SMS Marketing, also known as text message marketing, is a powerful and cost efficient marketing tool when used correctly. However, as we have covered in recent posts, there are rules and legislation to abide by. If the law is not followed, then it leaves businesses facing enforcement action, whether or not their actions were due to lack of knowledge, being careless or was intentional.
So following on from our articles on some of the laws surrounding marketing by SMS text messages, we are going to take a look at some recent real life examples where companies were punished as a result of their text communications with customers, what happened and how to avoid making the same mistakes.
Provident Personal Credit Ltd (Satsuma Loans)
In July this year, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published enforcement action it had taken against Provident Personal Credit Ltd, based in Bradford, West Yorkshire. They were found to have sent almost a million text messages through third party affiliates promoting Satsuma Personal Loans over 6 months, although it is possible that a higher number were sent. How did they break the law? The messages were unsolicited, none of the customers had consented to receive such marketing.
The ICO ruled that PPC Ltd had contravened regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. This effectively states that senders should not transmit or instigate the transmission of electronic mail for direct marketing purposes unless the recipient of the mail has previously notified the sender that they consent freely and specifically to such communications.
The ICO’s spam reporting service had received 285 complaints regarding this company’s campaign between 6th April 2015 and 13th October 2015. After the ICO investigated, they issued a monetary penalty, or fine, of £80,000 under section 55a of the Data Protection Act 1998. PPC Ltd will have the right to appeal this.
The Head of Enforcement for the ICO, Steve Eckersley commented: “The law is clear. You can’t send marketing texts to people who have not signed up to receive them.
“Being bombarded with texts you didn’t ask for and don’t want is an intrusion into people’s privacy, an irritation and, in the worst cases can be upsetting. Companies have no excuse whatsoever for sending nuisance texts, whether they do it themselves or employ someone else to do it for them.”
The company released a statement about the action: ‘’Although the ICO found that the contravention was not deliberate, PPC takes this contravention extremely seriously. It has reviewed its marketing processes and put in place procedures designed to prevent such conduct happening again’’.
There have been several other businesses fined by the ICO within the last year for breaches of the DPA or PECR during SMS text messaging direct marketing campaigns.
The key to preventing any such problems in your business is to ensure that you or at least one competent member of your staff maintain an understanding of privacy and data legislations and double check each campaign to ensure they meet the rules. Don’t leave things to chance – seek advice from a correctly accredited provider when unsure as the legislation can be complicated.
Clean Carpets Plymouth
Although this case centres around a contractual argument rather than direct marketing, it definitely provides a clear example of how not to deal with customers by text. On 7th February this year, a newspaper article in the Plymouth Herald, later picked up and published by some of the national tabloids, alleged that the above company had harassed a young couple through text messages.
The couple had apparently booked a carpet cleaning session but then cancelled due to suffering a miscarriage and hospitalisation as a result. The company felt that the customer had not provided cancellation within the appropriate time and should pay a cancellation fee. What followed was a series of text messages between the company owner and the customer, some of which were printed in the newspaper articles, appearing to show the company taking quite an aggressive stance towards the customer. Each time the customer responded, the company raised their administration fee by £25, so by the end, it reached almost £1000. It was even reported that the carpet cleaning firm had said the couple deserved to lose their baby although they strongly deny this.
The customers reported the company and its owner to the police, who were investigating if a crime had been committed under the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Whether or not any prosecution case will be brought against the company is unknown as of yet, but two days later, another article was published where the company owner claimed that he and his wife had received death threats and risked losing both their business and their home as a result.
Moral of the story? There is such a thing as bad publicity. This may seem a pretty extreme example, but it’s easier than you think for you or your employees to send texts containing inappropriate or easily misconstrued wording or content and this could unravel your company’s reputation and business security quicker than pressing the send button. A poorly trained or resentful employee could wreak havoc so at the very least, make sure you have tight approval protocol systems in place.
For more information on some of the many laws applicable to SMS Marketing, we recommend that you also read the following articles:
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