MMA Updates Guidelines, Restricts Marketing To Children
The MMA guidelines, which set out accepted wireless industry practices, are updated twice a year by a committee made up of members representing wireless carriers, aggregators and content providers. "The revisions attempt to stay ahead of the market and protect the consumer experience," said Laura Marriott, executive director of the MMA.
One of the main updates is the addition of language governing marketing to children. The rules call for industry participants to comply with all laws dealing with children and marketing--particularly the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection, or COPPA. Mobile content providers may also need to change the advertising language of programs targeted at children to ensure that it's not inappropriate or misleading.
The guidelines' advertising and promotion section also seeks to clarify what "free" means in connection with mobile marketing. It cites an FTC guide defining appropriate use of the term, and states that any customer obligations related to "free" offers must be disclosed prominently within the promotion. In other words, there shouldn't be any hidden costs. The MMA also approves "bonus" and "complimentary" as acceptable alternatives to "free."
New rules are also laid out for the use of shortcodes--the special cell phone numbers, usually only five digits long--that have become popular vehicles for offering promotions to mobile users. The guidelines require that shortcode program pricing be clearly indicated and notice provided that any charges will appear on a customer's wireless bill or deducted from a prepaid balance.
Once a customer reaches $50 in extra charges on a shortcode, an additional opt-in should be required, with opt-ins for every additional $25 incurred in shortcode fees. However, carriers are allowed to set their own hard caps on spending--the amount that can't be exceeded regardless of additional opt-ins. Marriott said the suggested $50 cap is intended to protect consumers who get caught up in shortcode promotions without realizing the cost. "We're trying to be proactive on big data users," she said.
Viral marketing is another growing marketing trend that the updated MMA guidelines addresses. The rules forbid viral messages from being forwarded by automatic means, such as an application that accesses someone's contact list or address book. They also ban the forwarding of messages to an Internet domain name assigned to a wireless operator for a mobile messaging service. Offering inducements in exchange for a consumer promise to forward a message is also prohibited.
However, word-of-mouth campaigns in which one mobile user manually enters another's number to receive a message, and the forwarded message goes to that recipient, are allowed.
"The Consumer Best Practices Guidelines set by the MMA continue to set the standard by which carriers, aggregators and content providers offer services in our emerging mobile marketing industry," said David Oberholzer, associate director, content programming at Verizon Wireless and chairman of the MMA's Consumer Best Practices Committee, in a prepared statement.
Committee members also include employees of Cingular Wireless, Enpocket, MTV Networks, m-Qube, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA.