September 2005 - Mobile Manners

Does mobile marketing require a Code of Conduct? The Mobile Marketing Association believes it’s a positive step toward self-regulation that will benefit the industry in the long run.

By David Lustig

Whenever a rapidly developing technology makes its way towards the mainstream, organizations and government agencies strive to keep it from exploding into an unregulated and irritating force that will put it on a collision course with consumer acceptance. Annoy the potential users that the technology is being designed to attract and the powerhouse marketing tool that “could be” quickly becomes ineffective.

What is needed then is a strong Code of Conduct. Not one that is just window dressing on a website, but one that has teeth and one that all responsible parties can not only appreciate, but live with.

Enter the words Code of Conduct into the website and exactly one entry is found: “A Code of Conduct is a set of conventional principles and expectations that are considered binding on any person who is a member of a particular group.”

It’s that simple. There are no alternatives or methods for working around a Code of Conduct. You, as an individual or as an organization, agree to it or not.

The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) understands this and strives to stimulate the growth of mobile marketing and its associated technology, with the aid of a solid Code of Conduct.

Headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., MMA has chapters in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Austria. Most, including the U.S. chapter, adopt the MMA’s global Code of Conduct, while some countries create their own to better fit individual circumstances. MMA members include agencies, advertisers, handheld device manufacturers, carriers and operators, retailers, software providers, and service providers, as well as any company focused on the potential of marketing via mobile devices.

As the primary source for mobile marketing information and expertise in the countries where it exists, the MMA concerns itself with:

  • Providing an industry forum to meet, discuss, plan and work cooperatively to resolve key industry issues;
  • Bringing together industry-wide, global and regional work groups that focus on industry initiatives;
  • Providing representation for the mobile marketing industry to major legislative bodies worldwide;
  • Sharing perspectives on mobile marketing between Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the U.S.;
  • Fueling peer-to-peer interaction through seminars, conferences and events;
  • Developing metrics for measuring ad delivery and consumer response;
  • Developing open and compatible mobile marketing technical and creative standards;
  • Defining and publishing mobile marketing best practices and guidelines on privacy, ad delivery and ad measurement;
  • Providing the value and effectiveness of mobile marketing to advertisers, agencies and consumers; and
  • Serving as the key advocate on behalf of the mobile marketing industry.

All this sounds great in theory. But where does a Code of Conduct fit into all this, and how important is it for something like the mobile marketing industry?

“It’s very important,” says MMA Global Chairman Jim Manis. “When you talk about marketing channels, the mobile channel is truly the most powerful because of its ubiquity. You carry that phone with you wherever you go. Our association believes that having a code in place is critical to consumers having a positive user experience.”

But what mechanism is in place to stop spam-that dreaded waster of airtime and useable minutes that apparently does get enough significant feedback to warrant its continuance?

The answer is simple, says Manis; as a consumer using approved mobile marketing methods, you must opt-in to the system to receive information. Unauthorized transmissions are practically non-existent.

“You can’t launch a program on the brand side without getting permission from the mobile carrier,” explains Manis. “Program briefs are developed, approved, built, tested, launched and monitored.”

And what if someone violates the concept? For example, when you opt-in with your mobile device, you also receive messages beyond the scope of what you were expecting to receive.

Manis says the mobile carriers will have the ability to enforce the rules by stripping the short code-the individual access code provided by every mall, supermarket or standalone business-off the system. In other words, be nice and play by the rules, or you’re going to find yourself denied access to consumers via mobile marketing.

The fallacy, he explains, is there is no location-based service that will feed your mobile device coupons and other information, adding that it is just not the way the system works.

One of the most popular mistaken examples is when you pass by a particular business and when within its “range,” it will have the ability to send you a coupon, maybe for a discount on a product the store stocks.

“For you to get pinged that way, with an unsolicited coupon, is unsolicited and not allowed,” says Manis. “That is intrusive and the industry is working to prevent it.”

One example of the way the system is expected to work well is as a proactive selling tool. Every time we leave the checkout stand at a supermarket, for instance, most of us get a receipt plus another strip of paper with coupons we can use “the next time we come back and shop.”

The way the Mobile Marketing Association wants it to work is that when consumers go into the market, or the mall, or the home supply warehouse, they can use their cell phone to enter a unique short code for that store to download specials, coupons, or other bits of information “before” they start shopping, giving them not only the opportunity to be aware of sale items, but give the store, hopefully, a higher buyer awareness of what it stocks.

“That,” says Manis, “empowers the consumer.”

It is clear then, that the industry wants self-regulation, something the federal government wants, as well.

“We applaud the industry for starting to think about consumer issues and coming up with self-regulation in this area,” says Stacy Feuer, an attorney specializing in international consumer protection issues with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC, Feuer reminds us, is primarily interested in consumer protection issues, while the Federal Communications Commission, (FCC), is involved in the general regulation of the wireless industry.

But does self-regulation in an industry that begs for the unscrupulous to try and bend the rules really work?

“We want self-regulation for the wireless industry,” Feuer says, “but we have to take a hard look at the self-regulation programs. Over the years, we [FTC] have issued reports on self-regulation programs on advertising alcohol to minors, on marketing of material with violent content to children, the movie industry, music industry and video game industry among others. We have criticized where appropriate and applauded where appropriate. We also suggest improvements.

“This is an emerging technology. We’re glad the industry is taking self-regulating steps. One of the things we recommend is that the industry looks to FTC laws and standards on communicating with consumers on other types of advertising. The basic message is that representations to consumers should not be false or misleading and disclosures should be clear and conspicuous.”

While it seems U.S. agencies and associations are making positive steps in self-regulation, sometimes it appears that other countries seem to be ahead of the United States in pursuing and activating guides and codes of conduct. Feuer rebukes that thought.

“This is not a race,” she says, adding that other countries will act appropriately to their particular circumstances. “You have to look at the industries in each country. Mobile commerce is more widespread in the United Kingdom, the Nordic countries, Japan and Korea then the United States.”

Feuer adds that we also have to look at the differing legal systems and norms in each country.

“The European Union has very comprehensive privacy regulation,” she says. “In the U.S., we have a sector approach to consumer privacy-there are specific laws; for example, relating to health information and financial information. At this time, we [the FTC] have been primarily focusing on enforcement rather than the legislative approach.”

Okay, we’ve got the appropriate conduct guidelines from the Mobile Marketing Association and the thoughts from the Federal Trade Commission on what they expect to see from the industry. What about content providers?

Bill Schacht of Aestheticom in Stockholm, Sweden, has produced numerous online campaigns for BMG/Sony, Microsoft, Universal and Disney. Some of these projects have been taken past the desktop monitor to include mobile devices, including working closely with Microsoft as they planned and came to announce their association with the first-ever PDA to play motion graphics, the Pocket PC Group. Aestheticom also worked with Nokia on its 9210 communicator phone, the first with the ability to play motion clips as well.

“Our partner’s content is typically in high demand,” says Schacht. “Consumers express their primary needs and content providers are happy to explore what the landscape here might be. As the landscape matures, so too does this provider-consumer relationship.

“Second, the technology did need to come first. In many ways, the playing field is even still being established. As this frontier comes to engross the mobile landscape, this same scenario will continue to play itself out.”

Schacht says the legal rights for consumers is, in his opinion, the next step-since the complete table hasn’t yet been set, it is hard to fully define what the value proposition to the consumer actually is and should be and what the actual legal rights surrounding that relationship is.

“This leaves a wide gap in terms of what can be done to better protect the consumer,” Schacht continues. “I think we are at the point now where that should, in fact, take place.”

Schacht believes a “Good Housekeeping”-type of “seal of approval” that ensures fair practice is being used for web and mobile promotions should be utilized on a global scale, so that the possibility for consumers to be taken advantage of is greatly diminished, and conversely, the ability for action should said rules be broken made more clear.

“Some countries do take the lead with this, because they take the lead with the technology, and are, therefore, in the throes of these discussions before other countries need to get involved with these issues,” he says. “Since these developments are widely expected to become common in the U.S. as well, it would not be bad for the U.S. to take the lead on this more aggressively than they have.”

“You’re going to see quite a rapid evolution of applications in the market place,” sums up MMA’s Manis. “More branded applications and far more entertainment. You, as the consumer, are going to have a richer multimedia experience than you have today. Your handset is going to be better and the network delivering that data to you is going to be better. It’s the ‘build it, and they will come’ approach.”

If Manis is correct, that is exactly what will happen, thanks in part to the enforcement of a strong Code of Conduct.

The Global Code of Conduct for the Mobile Marketing Association

Privacy Advisory Committee members Carat Interactive, Cingular Wireless, Procter & Gamble, PocketChoice, The Weather Channel and VeriSign developed this Code of Conduct. It was ratified by the board of directors on Nov. 3, 2003.

The Mobile Marketing Association Privacy Advisory Committee realizes the need for a Code of Conduct that is both universal in principle and industry specific in its application. Industries touched by this Code of Conduct are: content providers, carriers, technology providers, advertisers and brands. This code is intended to provide guidelines by which companies market their products and services to consumers. It is not, however, intended to regulate a wireless carrier’s ongoing proprietary communication with its current base of subscribers.

In building its Code of Conduct, the MMA realizes that:

  1. Mobile device marketing has proven to be the most effective means of consumer interaction;
  2. Marketing on mobile devices is a personal communication with the consumer that must be handled with care for it to succeed;
  3. Systematic abuses among a minority of marketers causes consumer backlash against all marketers;
  4. Current Internet privacy policy and verification initiatives may not be effective with mobile marketing; and
  5. Mobile device marketing can be made profitable for both consumers and marketers through a strong Code of Conduct backed by a unified industry.

The MMA Code of Conduct is divided into six categories: choice, control, customization, consideration, constraint and confidentiality.

Consumers must opt-in to all mobile messaging programs. Consumers may opt-in to a program by sending a text message, calling a voice response unit, registering on a website, or through some other legitimate paper-based method; they opt-in for a specific program only. Choice doesn’t carry forward unless the consumer is part of a brand loyalty program whose opt-in registration clearly provides for on-going communications. Even then, the consumer’s desire to participate must be validated at the beginning of a new messaging program. Segmentation-based marketing (by interests, demographics, etc.) and location-based marketing is prohibited unless the consumer clearly opted-in to receive the campaigns by giving personally identifiable information that is verifiable with their identity.

Consumers must also be allowed to easily terminate-opt-out-their participation in an ongoing mobile messaging program through channels identical to those through which they can opt-in to a given program. Programs with multiple message strings must provide an opt-out option for each message.

As mobile messaging campaigns are most effective when appropriately targeted, consumers could be asked to provide demographics, preferences and other information. All “follow on” communications targeted at an existing opt-in universe should be encouraged to use this data to optimize message volumes, redemption rates and return on investment-plus restrict communications to those categories specifically requested by the consumer.

The consumer must receive and/or be offered something of value to them in return for receiving the communication. Value may be delivered in the form of product and service enhancements, reminders, sweepstakes, contests, information, entertainment, discounts or location-based services.

The marketer, content provider or aggregator must provide a global “throttling mechanism” capable of managing the number of messages received by an individual consumer. The purpose of the throttle is to effectively manage and limit mobile messaging programs to a reasonable number of programs, defaulted to a maximum of two new campaigns per week (One campaign may have one initial opted-in communication followed by several two-way communications initiated by the consumer as part of that one campaign; i.e., a trivia game). Consumers will have the option to override the throttle through an additional opt-in available through the standard channels.

Align with TRUSTe with specific provisions on not renting, selling or sharing personal information about consumers participating in programs delivered through its platform with other people or nonaffiliated companies except to provide the products and services requested. Aggregated, non-personal, non-individual information might be shared collectively with partners for research purposes only. All customers should be subjected to the terms and conditions of a privacy policy that meets TRUSTe’s example.

David Lustig is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine. We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please point your browser to

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