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Avoid this $47M mobile marketing mistake

August 28, 2012

Greg Hickman is founder of

Greg Hickman is founder of

By Greg Hickman

Would you have $47 million to make up for a mistake you made in your business? Or, for that matter, a client?

I am guessing not.

In fact, most businesses would be about $47 million in debt with a mistake of that magnitude.

What if I told you that this mistake came from sending a text message?

What if I told you that this message provided a really great offer?

You see, Jiffy Lube recently made a mistake that cost $47 million because of a text message spam lawsuit that violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), all which could have been avoided if it followed a few simple rules.

Slippery slope
Before I share the rules, let us understand what really went down here.

Consumers filed a suit after Jiffy Lube sent unsolicited text messages advertising a “1 time offer” for 45 percent off an oil change to many of its customers.

Pretty good offer, right? Especially if you opted-in to receiving text messages from Jiffy Lube. It was not the offer that was the problem. It was the fact that none of these people had opted-in to receiving these messages.

See, Jiffy Lube did not follow Mobile Marketing Association best practice on acquiring mobile opt-ins from their customers that were willing to receive these types of offers.

Jiffy Lube used phone numbers that had been provided on invoices from previous sales.

Basically, Jiffy Lube uploaded a bunch of a numbers into their database for marketing purposes and sent these unsolicited messages even though their customers – their very own existing customers – did not provide consent.

Making the right call
Let us get this clear for anyone looking to get started using or currently using SMS marketing. This is the worst thing you can do in mobile.

SMS marketing is a permission-based marketing channel, which means you need the customer’s permission.

Ripping phone numbers off of invoices is not the right way to build your database and, as seen here, you are violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Per the TCPA:

“The TCPA, however, prohibits companies from using automatic telephone dialing systems to make calls to cell phones unless the owners have consented.“

Without consent you violate the TCPA, go against MMA best practices, risk losing your short code or your vendor’s short code, losing what could have been loyal customers and giving mobile, especially SMS marketing, a bad name even though so many brands have seen success such as Coca-Cola, Target and Macy’s.

If consumers successfully pursue a lawsuit for violations of the TCPA, they be awarded $500-$1,500 per violation if they prove the conduct was willful or intentional.

One of the biggest mistakes I consistently see is smaller businesses trying to replicate campaigns they have seen from larger brands without a strategy of their own.

It is unfortunate, too, as Jiffy Lube has been hyped up for being a successful mobile marketer. You can read about their successes here and here. That status will soon change if not already due to this lawsuit.

Well, there is a lot to learn from this incident and you can avoid this mistake by doing a few simple things that should help you make the right decisions when creating an SMS program. Want to avoid this mistake?

5 rules to grow the mobile database
1. Do not be a d-bag. This is pretty simple. Nobody likes a d-bag.

If people are spending money with your business, which they were since the numbers came from previous invoices, do not spam them with text messages. They already supported your business, which means they would probably opt-in for offers like this.

2. Get them to knowingly opt-in. Getting consent from a customer to send them text messages is not that hard. Add a text call-to-action at major customer touch points.

Here are a few locations to promote your SMS call-to-action:

● At the register
● On receipts or invoices
● On your Web site
● On your direct mail or print collateral
● Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter
● Educate your staff to tell customers about the value by texting in

3. Be compliant. Although your customers knew they were opting-in to your program, there are still a few compliance issues for which you need to account. When you offer an SMS-related program either using a keyword call-to-action or via a Web form, you must include the following:

○ The phrase Message & Data Rates May Apply needs to be presented within one line above or below the call-to-action.

○ The messaging frequency needs to be clearly stated to manage expectations. Will the consumer receive one message a week or 10? I do not recommend 10, but regardless of the number make sure that is clearly communicated with a phrase such as “Max. 4 messages/month.”

○ Opt-out and Help instructions such as Text STOP to 12345 to opt-out or text HELP to 12345 for help.

○ If your program is subscription-related, you must include bullets 1-3 above in your SMS confirmation message when a new customer opts-in.

○ Is it just a sweepstakes campaign? Include the URL to the complete rules.

4 Exchange value for value: Customers are exchanging their mobile number along with immediate access. You must offer something equally, if not more, valuable than that. Make it super-valuable and watch your list grow faster.

5. Clarity Is king. Yeah, I know the saying is “content” is king, but aside from incentives and user error, the biggest reason a call-to-action fails to engage consumers is lack of a clear call-to-action. They do not understand the value of the opt-in. They are misled as to what they are opting-in for, which is why this is a big part of the number 2 rule of “Get them to knowingly opt-in.”

Now that you know what you should do, please – and I mean please – never just take a mobile number that you know of and add it to your mobile database similar to what Jiffy Lube is said to have done.

Even if your customer has entered their mobile number on a lead form at some point, it does not give you permission to message them.

These customers have to opt-in to receiving messages from your business. If not, you risk being the next $47 million mistake.

Greg Hickman is a Denver, CO-based mobile marketing consultant, founder and host at, a mobile marketing talk show and blog. Reach him at

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