ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE – There has been much written lately regarding the online marketing of ringtones and other mobile content. Various settlements and cooperative agreements have been reached between government agencies and companies. What can marketers, publishers and networks do, and equally importantly, not do if they market mobile content to consumers?
Let me first provide some pertinent background information: at AzoogleAds, in mid-2005, we commenced a broad effort to establish clear best practices on integrity assurance issues, initially around the email marketing of ringtones, and later, effectively banning adware in early 2006. In late summer of 2006, on our own volition, we became the first company in the sector to adopt a Mobile Acceptable Use Policy and to ban the use of the term “Free” in cases where the offer was not, in fact, free. When the Florida Attorney General (FLAG) commenced a broad-based investigation into mobile content marketing in 2007 – an ongoing investigation, focusing on nearly every mobile content marketer in the business – the FLAG relied heavily on our existing policies, which had been in place for well over a year, when we jointly drafted our Assurance of Voluntary Compliance. The idea was to create a Code of Conduct for the industry overall – a Code of Conduct with the teeth of the FLAG to back it up. Why is this all important? One, it illustrates that mobile content marketing and marketing-related compliance issues are not “new” despite the recent rash of announcements. Two, it illustrates the comprehensive knowledge we have uniquely built up for over 3 years relating to mobile content marketing.
To be clear, this article applies to mobile content marketing, and not to incentive marketing. Certain industry observers have incorrectly tied these two together because they may sometimes be used in tandem. However, Mobile content marketing refers specifically to selling some type of mobile device content – e.g., a ringtone, a text service, etc. Incentive marketing is generally a process whereby a consumer is offered something of value – say, an iPod – in exchange for completing a number of offers which are displayed on a series of web pages referred to as an incentive order path or a “Co-Reg” path .
Now, numerous other companies and ad networks are carefully examining their own marketing practices in this sector, as well they should. However, there remains significant confusion around what companies can and cannot do when marketing mobile content. Despite the wave of regulatory action, there are still plenty of players that fail – through ignorance, laziness or willful neglect – to embrace legitimate marketing practices. As a result, consumers remain at risk and suspicion will continue to hang over the sector (ironically, the neglectful players are quite well-known and easy to find, and sometimes stoop to trying to poke holes in the truly “above board” players to mask their own malfeasance).
Hence, we’ve compiled a list of marketing guidelines for publishers and ad networks that can benefit you in many ways. Heeding these guidelines will keep costs associated with chargebacks and fraud down, help to protect your business legally (and avoid regulatory risk), and allow you to maintain a profitable, and more importantly, sustainable relationship with advertisers and consumers.
“Top 10 list” for Online Publishers and Ad Networks
10. DON’T mislead consumers with deceptive language
Restrict the use of FREE and FREE-like language in ad-copy. Displaying FREE and its derivatives (“Bonus”, “Complimentary”, “Gift”, etc) are allowed so long as these keywords are not being deceptively applied. What does this mean? Publishers may not imply that ringtone offers carry no monetary obligations on the part of the consumer when in fact they do. The intent and spirit of this position remains in sync with that of the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) — marketers may not use language that a reasonable consumer would interpret to mean “no charge whatsoever”. Moreover, if a marketer uses the term FREE or FREE-like language, when the program DOES contain a cost, that language must be modified adjacent to the FREE claim with the relevant material terms of the offer (price and billing period) – i.e., if you use FREE in a search title, the search description must provide the disclaimer, “with 9.99 per month subscription”.