Cold calls and nuisance texts have long been lambasted as a scourge on modern society. Not only do they inconvenience those unlucky enough to be besieged by them, they give the wider marketing industry an unduly bad name. These unscrupulous companies, which not only flout laws but best practice guidelines and general ethics alike, can often leave customers with a sour taste. Some even go so far as to claim unrelenting companies have “harassed them”, resulting in “annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety”.
All of the above led to a recent government announcement that it would be cracking down on such bad practice and doling out fines that could stretch up to £500,000. However, all may not be quite as it seems. Despite the countless news reports, this development hasn’t really changed too much within the industry. In fact, the law hasn’t changed that much at all – only that these rules will now be enforced much more effectively.
Here is a guide for marketers wondering what the developments mean for them, and how to ensure they stay on the right side of the law.
All change in mobile marketing law?
The crux of this case lies in two short words: “significant distress”. Previously, complainants needed to prove that nuisance calls or text messages had caused them such distress before any action could be taken. With such proof sometimes hard to come by – or easy to counter – there were few cases which actually made it to prosecution.
However, these hurdles have now been removed. As per the most recent government announcement, a fine could be doled out without the need for such proof, thus enabling a much more direct route to resolution than ever before. It is hoped that these measures will not only help those who have been on the receiving end of such calls or texts to take action, but also prevent these unscrupulous campaigns from getting started in the first place.
For all the news bluster about a new regime, this action makes up the brunt of this change.
What constitutes “a nuisance” with texts and cold calls?
Typically, any company, official body or individual that may be wondering whether or not their missives can be identified as being a nuisance will have nothing to worry about. There are rules, regulations, and best practice guidelines set out to ensure that any texts or calls follow the relevant guidelines and offer no cause for concern. At the other end of the spectrum, any dubious “marketers” flouting the rules will have often gone out of their way to do so.
For example, nuisance spammers in this sense will not identify themselves on calls or texts. As most marketing is a brand awareness exercise, actively seeking to conceal one’s identity is counter-productive to say the least. Another facet of nuisance messages is those sent to illicitly harvested data (such as contact lists of purchased numbers, rather than those of people who have actively opted in). Similarly, anybody blasting batch messages out to random numbers will quickly be identified as spammers.
The law goes on to state that, to get in touch with individuals, companies must have had some sort of working relationship with them over the past two years. In addition, any messages or calls must have an opt-out path, through which anybody that doesn’t want to be contacted again can make this request – and see it carried out.
Widespread approval for change
Following the government’s announcement, official bodies within the industry have come out in support of the changes. The DMA (Direct Marketing Association), for example, released a statement claiming the move was a positive one for which it had long been campaigning.
Director of external affairs at the DMA, Mike Lordan, told campaignlive.co.uk: “The DMA has been spearheading the industry’s initiatives to tackle the problem of nuisance calls and text spam, and we have been calling for legislative changes to make it easier for the ICO to issue penalties to rogue companies breaking the law.
“The recent surge in complaints has been driven in the main by rogue companies making PPI and accident claims calls. Lowering the burden of proof is an important tool in protecting the telemarketing industry and consumers from the scourge of nuisance calls.”
Lordan’s sentiments weren’t quite echoed by David Hickson of the Fair Telecoms Campaign, though. He argued that this most recent announcement could be little more than “pre-election posturing”, even though he admitted that it was a “step in the right direction”.
We at Textlocal also welcome the announcement, as it could provide the first steps to eradicating this bad practice. However, the announcement is one that doesn’t impact us or change anything, as Textlocal has forever operated on the right side of the law – not to mention our own strict ethical guidelines.
As company CEO Alastair Shortland notes: “We police our traffic. Every single client is vetted to ensure they are not sending spam or anything that resembles it.
“We pride ourselves on promoting an ethical text messaging service, based on pure opt-in, consent, and timeliness of messages. Ourselves, our platform, and our clients are as far removed from spam SMS texting as you can possibly imagine.”