Spam texts risk fuelling anti-DM fire

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At the risk of outing myself as a sad individual with modest interaction with the outside world, the receipt of a text message always perks me up with the promise of engagement with nearest and dearest.

The joy of being communicated with by such means, however, is being put at risk by the ever increasing number of texts received by companies trumpeting personal injury services, debt busting loans and all-frills mobile packages.

I am not alone, it seems. The volume of complaints in the last six months of 2011 doubled over the first to 1008, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A modest number, some would argue, given the estimated 8 million unsolicited messages the Direct Marketing Association says are sent every day, but one that likely betrays the number of consumers bristling about texts received. And with ever increasing numbers consuming mobile services, companies will more and more use mobile as a direct marketing channel and send so-called spam messages and risk upsetting the very people they are striving to appeal to.

Direct marketing in its physical format is dogged by a bad reputation and subsequent bad press. The problem of unwanted “junk” mail sent without cause or prompt is one that has been debated furiously for years. In response, opt-out services have been introduced and industry deals with government have been struck in a bid to restrict the volume of unsolicited mail sent.

Problems persist but there is a movement born from a desire not to at the very least worsen what is already a pretty poor reputation. That movement, however, was as much prompted by pressure from regulators and government as it was the industry and the same now needs to be seen for text messages.

Firstly, a communications drive needs to be developed by those that can and have an interest in the issue – the Ministry of Justice, ICO, Ofcom – to let consumers know that there is somewhere and someone, the ICO, to register their ire.

Armed with this information, the ICO needs to match its will with its ability to get tough on spam texters. It has the right and the means to crack-down and it needs to start to do so now.

Text marketing can be, if targeted, relevant and measured, as legitimate a direct marketing tool as any. The channel needs, however, to be carefully managed and regulated or it risks being universally dismissed as an irritant before it has time to flourish.

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