Bluetooth and the MMA

I was lucky enough to be elected Global Chairman of the MMA a few months back, on top of my role as Chairman of EMEA. This is an unpaid and part time role, in case you wondered, and has to be squeezed into my day job, blogging, my involvement in Mobile Monday and any kind of leisure time I might foolishly aspire to.

Having said that, I take my MMA role very seriously and am thoroughly enjoying it – even the challenges and controversies that inevitably come with this kind of job.

Speaking of which….you might have seen that the MMA has just published in draft form its “European Bluetooth Guidelines” for public review. This has been greeted in some quarters, like The Register with accusations that the MMA is encouraging spam and many people have written to ask me what my stance is on this.

This is a complex question in reality, especially as I need to balance my own opinions and that of my Chairman role. But I’m happy to be lay out some of the thinking here and am very fortunate that I have the platform to do it.

Firstly, let me make absolutely clear that these guidelines are not the final document that we’ll be going with. The process within the MMA for this kind of work is that members who have a special interest in a topic get together and form a committee. This committee then debates the issues, develops a position and drafts a paper – in this case, these Guidelines – and this can take many months of hard work, thought and negotiation.

After that, the guidelines are published for the public to provide feedback on. That feedback is consolidated, considered by the committee and may or may not be incorporated into the final guidelines that are then published. The guidelines may then be reviewed and changed on an ongoing basis, as opinions change and as technology develops.

To be completely transparent, I haven’t seen these guidelines either before now, as I wasn’t part of the committee. I can’t possibly oversee or even be involved all the work the MMA does and neither do I need to be.

So, my first request to all of you is to read the guidelines and comment as you see fit – read and comment here. And you don’t need to be a member of the MMA in order to do that.

As a brief background to the controversy here, there are broadly two types of Bluetooth campaign – just as there are two types of mobile marketing. Firstly, there is Pull. This is where (in the case of Bluetooth) the consumer sees the opportunity to interact in another medium and actively and consciously decides to initiate a contact. As an example, you might go to the cinema, see a poster and as a result download via Bluetooth a trailer for a forthcoming film, or a ringtone for the soundtrack of the movie you’ve just seen.

This is generally regarded, and I absolutely agree, as being totally acceptable. The consumer can choose to interact with the promoter or not.

The second type is Push campaigns and this is where the fun begins. With say, an SMS push campaign, we can stipulate that the consumer must opt in to receive messages from the promoter and of course, have the ability to subsequently opt out. This is actually a legal requirement in Europe and some other markets.

However, with Bluetooth, the modus operandi is to send a message to random phones that have Bluetooth switched on, are in discoverable mode and are in range of the transmitter, asking if they would like to receive a marketing message. If you take an SMS analogy, this is like sending an SMS to someone, asking them if they would like to opt in to a campaign. It might be polite and courteous, but it would still be unsolicited and still regarded as spam, in my opinion.

Proponents of Bluetooth Push campaigns argue that if people don’t wish to be contacted, they can either switch their Bluetooth off, or make it undiscoverable (so they can still use, for example, Bluetooth headsets). Opponents (and I’m one) say that that’s like saying if you don’t want to get email spam, don’t buy a PC or don’t use your email client.

There’s some even murkier aspects to this.

Firstly, it’s generally not covered by legislation, unlike say unsolicited email or sms. So no one is breaking the law in any way.

Secondly, there’s the closed community aspect. As an example, you go to a Madonna gig at the O2 Centre. The organiser decides that they’re going to send everyone (with Bluetooth switched on) a personal message from Madge, inviting them to download a free ringtone from her latest album. Technically, this is unsolicited, but then it’s hard to see who on earth would be offended by this and perhaps then it’s acceptable? In any event, it’s a far cry from the scenario of walking down a High Street or in a shopping mall and getting a “Can we send you something?” message from all the shops in the area.

Other areas of concern is that many people wouldn’t know how to change the Bluetooth settings on their mobile. And ultimately this would be a great way to distribute viruses to mobiles, but maybe this is getting just a bit too paranoid.

My position as a member of the MMA and a marketer is that the MMA should recommend against the use of unsolicited Bluetooth messaging campaigns, no matter how politely those messages are phrased. I would make an exception to promotion to closed groups, such as the Madonna scenario I outlined above.

But it’s more complicated than that. As Chairman of the MMA, I want to keep the members who promote these campaigns within the Association, as it means that we can continue to have a dialogue and discussion – and make them see that it’s not a good way for a marketer to behave. An outright ban would almost certainly encourage them to set up their own organisation and I think that this would be a bad thing for the industry.

Ultimately, I also believe that these techniques will die anyway, whether because of a massive consumer backlash at some future point or because legislation will ban it. It’s only remotely acceptable today because relatively few messages are sent to relatively few people.

The Bluetooth push proponents are almost all reasonable people and some privately admit that they would rather not run these types of campaigns. But if their competitors all do, they have to service clients who demand it, whether or not those clients and suppliers are MMA members. This is an argument which I have some sympathy with.

So what’s the answer here? I believe that the Guidelines at this stage should reflect that Bluetooth push campaigns while legal, are controversial, could reflect poorly on brands that choose to promote themselves in this way and don’t represent best practice.

The MMA is a democratic and consultative organisation, so while I have a definite opinion, we must be led by the majority. Which is why it’s so important that as many people comment on the Guidelines as they stand, whether or not they agree with them. So please make your voice heard while it’s fresh in your mind by heading over there now by clicking here.

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