Ronan Shields

Just before the close of 2012 Marketing Week ran a piece discussing how Vodafone was in the process of rolling out a messaging-based marketing platform having soft-launched its Vodafone Select, ahead of its integration with its joint venture with EE and O2 Weve.

Unlike its partners/rivals, Vodafone will seek specific opt-ins to its scheme – as opposed to the “soft opt-ins” or “permission-based” approach employed by EE and O2 to rapidly increase the subscriber numbers to their respective schemes Orange Shots and O2 More post their initial launches.

This strategy which may appear overly cautious to some, is unlikely to build the scale seen as desirable by media-buyers but it shows the operator is thinking about the dilemmas faced by most media owners. Namely: ‘how do I monetise my audience without exposing them to too much commercial content?’

Just last week when I spoke to the DMA’s (Direct Marketing Association)mobile chief Mark Brill, he reminded all UK mobile operators that transparency was crucial when obtaining permission to send them commercial messages on behalf of third-party brands on their phones.

His point was further enhanced when quoting research from the trade body which suggests that there are often discrepancies over what consumers’ think is an acceptable way of gaining their consent and what is in actual fact legally obtained consent for sharing mobile users’ information. A stark reminder if ever there was one that sometimes the law is sometimes not the true measure of what’s popularly acceptable!

From a DMA perspective it’s all about best practice and unless that is adopted, the operators could lose what is a potentially powerful [marketing] channel,” says Brill adding that operators risk SMS’ potential as a marketing channel if not handled sensitively.

“Increasingly, consumers’ experience of [commercial] SMS is spam and if operators don’t get permissions right then their messages can be lumped into the same category as PPI providers,” he adds adding that this is helping to spur a shift from people using SMS to IP-based channels such as apps like Viber and WhatsApp.

I’d have to agree with Brill’s assertion. While O2 was able to use the “soft opt-in” tactic to rapidly grow the O2 More audience from 6 million in a relatively short period of time without any initial consumer kick-back (en masse anyway).

However, I can’t help but think it’s a potential timebomb waiting to explode, as conversations I’ve had with ‘normal people’, i.e. those not in marketing or media, about it have expressed concern over this. Plus comments from aghast readers on our initial coverage on the roll out go as far as to say: “Why the regulator has allowed this is beyond me not much consultation with the public either…”

In my opinion the scale provided by the three operators working in unison, via Weve, should provider media buyers with enough scale to satisfy clients’ initial demands and give operators time to gain fully consented opt-ins. Asking for too much, too soon could ruin the potential and leave every one at a loss.