Report: Consumers Won't Stand For Wireless Spam

A new white paper released Monday concludes that traditional "push" marketing tactics won't work on cell phones and other mobile devices. Instead, said the report, marketers should focus on reaching consumers on their wireless devices through opt-in, location-based content-sponsorships.

"Protecting consumer privacy is paramount to the evolution of the medium," said Bill Carmody, chief marketing officer of Seismicom, the San Francisco-based brand marketing firm that wrote the report. "Push marketing is less and less effective," he said, adding that spam and spyware have heightened consumers' concerns about receiving ads on mobile phones and other personal wireless devices.

In the white paper, Carmody noted the importance of dispelling the "Starbucks myth," which holds that a person walking a short distance from a Starbucks would trigger an automated SMS text message to their phone offering discounts or coupons for Starbucks coffee.

Carmody said marketers simply will not send users unsolicited text messages--especially because text messages cost money to send and receive. He said that not only would consumer backlash to such a tactic be great enough to outweigh any increased sales from this kind of promotion, but federal regulations issued under Can-Spam outlaw sending consumers unsolicited messages on mobile devices.

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But, he said, a marketer such as Starbucks is very likely to invest in an opt-in service that makes it easier for consumers to locate the nearest store. "The most powerful thing wireless adds is location-based services," said Carmody, adding that opt-in, content-based sponsorships that leverage location services are the future of wireless marketing.

For example, Seismicom created a free wireless information portal that users could opt-in to for the Vans Warped Tour--a nationwide concert series that caters to the punk rock/alternative crowd--for its client Samsung, which was trying to promote its distribution partnership with Cingular Wireless. The information portal contained branding for both Samsung and Cingular, but largely focused on delivering content such as information on participating bands, and past concerts in the series. Carmody said the campaign received positive feedback from a demographic segment that notoriously hates being marketed to.

Carmody also mentioned enhanced wireless applications such as Dodgeball, which sends text messages to a pre-registered group of friends in a network. He said the idea is essentially "wireless Friendster," because it takes the idea of social networking and enhances it through location services and the possibility of on-demand meetings.

Dodgeball allows members to send messages to their pre-registered list of friends (and their friends' friends) by simply sending a time and a location. The message "Roy's Restaurant at 6 PM" would locate any friends in a 10-block radius, sending a personalized message such as "Bill is at Roy's Restaurant. You know him through Kathleen."

Carmody said applications like Dodgeball and content sponsorships are significant because successful wireless marketing will follow the similar model of opt-in, location-based services. He said that "customer relationship management" will have to become "the customer manages the relationship," to accommodate today's take-charge consumers.

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