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When you use SMS messaging for marketing, you have certain legal obligations to meet. One of those is obtaining permission to send direct marketing messages to the people on your list. While it’s true you can send messages to customers in the course of business with them, sending marketing messages needs to be done with care.
As an example, last month Optical Express (Westfield) Limited was issued an official warning by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to cease its use of marketing via text messaging to anyone who has not opted in to receive their messages. The ICO had received nearly 5,000 complaints about the company’s marketing between September 2013 and April 2014.
In the marketing message, the recipients were asked to enter a contest to win free laser eye surgery. The message also allowed them to opt out by replying STOP.
On the surface it appears they used appropriate marketing guidelines by giving people a way to opt out. But the real issue came because the messages were sent to people who had no association with the company, and had never given permission to be contacted electronically. The ICO estimates that only one in every thousand people will complain about spam messages. If that is true, then the company must have sent around well over a million text messages.
The enforcement notice, dated 19 December 2014, doesn’t state how the company obtained the mobile numbers of the people. It only specified that the Information Commissioner’s Office was satisfied the company didn’t have the permission to use SMS messaging for direct marketing to those recipients that complained. If the company doesn’t stop sending the messages they will be held criminally liable.
According to an article on the dailymail.co.uk, the company plans to appeal the warning. Perhaps then we’ll be able to see how they believed they could send messages to all these people.
What this example highlights though, is even if you believe you have permission, it’s best to make sure you do. Even if you aren’t fined, the costs to the company in bad PR, lost customers, and lost business will undoubtedly be high.