U.S. carriers join to improve mobile marketing

With common guidelines, due in June, the four biggest operators hope to cut costs and make consumers happier

The four major U.S. mobile operators have agreed to align their mobile marketing practices with a set of guidelines to be worked out with the Mobile Marketing Association, a move the industry group said will lead to a more consistent user experience and lower costs for marketing companies.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA all agreed to the plan, which was established with the help of major mobile content owners and aggregators. Among those were VeriSign, Neustar, Limbo and Thumbplay.

The MMA's Consumer Best Practices Committee will review the first draft of the planned guidelines in early April, and the group expects a final document to be released to the public by the end of June.

Among other things, the cooperation will lead to standardized disclosures for consumers, according to the MMA. But it could also lead to more mobile marketing campaigns, because having all the major U.S. carriers on the same page should streamline the process of getting marketing content out to users. Overall, the common rules could save the mobile industry as much as US$200 million per year, the group said.

The common rules have five objectives, according to the MMA:

- promote a consistent consumer experience;

- enhance efficiencies for marketing campaigns using short codes, or numbers that users send via text message to request services or content;

- cut the time to market for campaigns;

- ensure consistent monitoring and auditing;

- cut operational costs.

Mobile advertising and sales practices came under fire a few years ago. Some consumers said they had been tricked into subscribing to services that sent frequent text messages, such as daily jokes, and were charged for each one on their cell-phone bills without an easy way to stop them.

In 2005, the MMA set down voluntary guidelines that included clearly stating all the terms of a program, getting subscribers' approval before sending them commercial content, and having clear opt-in and opt-out procedures.

In the U.S., carriers have to field most complaints about the subscriber experience because charges appear on their monthly bills, so unhappy customers raise carriers' costs.

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