Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A tale told by an idiot

There’s a column by Debbie Mayo Smith in today’s Herald (Business users not getting the text message) extolling the virtues of text messaging for communicating with customers. Debbie’s thesis is that busy people get a lot of email already and she doesn’t want her messages to queue up with them. “Text does not have an IT manager, ISP or company filtering it out”, she says.

Well, yes. That’s rather the point. Most of us have no way of filtering text messages short of ditching our mobiles. We tend to look at our text messages immediately. It’s personal, almost intimate. That’s why I’m concerned about the Herald article.

To be fair to Mayo Smith, she does include the phrase “consenting parties” in her pean to the use of txt by business, just after “a fabulous way to whisper into a client’s or prospect’s ear”. Perhaps she does get that many of us would regard marketing text messages sent to out mobiles as an abuse.

There are some reasonable uses of text to customers, such as “your car is serviced and ready for pickup”, or “your dental appointment is 2:30 tomorrow”. Those are messages that are absolutely relevant to their recipient, and they are timely.

Sending me text messages advertising your wares wastes my time because I assume text messages are relevant and urgent. It displays contempt for me as a potential customer. No thanks, or rather, just no. George Orwell said that advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket, and I think many advertisers would be shocked how many people would agree with him.

Vodafone NZ has been doing this recently. It sent me a text message a month or so ago offering me a discount on my business landline. I don’t have one, so not only was the text intrusive, it was irrelevant. According to Twitter feeds Voda has been sending other people irrelevant marketing texts as well.

Telcos are uniquely positioned to abuse text messages for marketing because they don’t pay the 20c per message that most of us pay for messages, and because they have the systems to send bulk messages. But, like blinking text on a web page, just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s OK to do it. Sending unconsenting people irrelevant marketing text messages is never OK.

I’m really keen to see that there are two new mobile networks in town. That provides an alternative for people who irritated by text spam from their mobile company. And if any other business sends you irrelevant texts, feel free to send them one explaining why you are leaving.

posted by colin at 9:35 am  


  1. Yup. I’ve been annoyed by her “market till you drop” messages for a while. Maybe I should publish her cell number so she can be on the receiving end…

    Re Vodafone – yes, I’ve had them as well.

    Comment by Mark Harris — 12 May 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  2. Cost per text is the only thing stopping the spammers.

    Every other channel gets spammed – eg Skype, IM, email, private telephone numbers, ….

    I do get spam messages from Vodafone – it’s free for them to spam their own customers. And I’ve had a couple of spam messages from somewhere in South Africa. No Idea how they got my number.

    Comment by John in Christchurch — 18 May 2009 @ 8:31 pm

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