brown ice cream cone

7 Mobile Marketing Clangers to Avoid

Mobile marketing has matured. It’s no longer the disruptive new concept adopted by edgy start-ups in Shoreditch.

Most companies have now dipped their toe in and most have well established mobile marketing strategies as part of their overall marketing mix.

But we’re still seeing some toe-curlingly bad practices with SMS marketing. Some of these howlers are relatively minor but some are illegal and can result in getting you in really deep water.

So here’s our list of the top 7 mobile marketing clangers.

Clanger 1. Use Dodgy SMS Data



This clanger fully deserves its early billing.

Why? Because if you use data containing individuals who haven’t properly opted in to receiving texts, then the consequences can be catastrophic to the point of having to close your business.

The ICO or Information Commissioners Office set out the rules for sending marketing texts and they quite rightly take a very dim view of companies that flout the very reasonable rules.

A few years ago, a company called Help Direct, was fine £200,000 for repeatedly sending spam marketing texts despite warnings.

The company has also shown a blatant disregard for the rules by ignoring enforcement action we issued earlier this year. They are now facing the consequences of that decision.

Anne Jones, Assistant Commissioner – ICO

No messing around. Break the rules and pay the price, is the strong message here.

Ignorance of the rules is also no excuse. If you buy in data from a third party who confirms that they’re selling you fully opted in data, it’s up to the sender to check that the opt in process has been followed in line with the rules.

There’s no passing of the buck here. If you sent the messages, you’re responsible.

To help you stay the right side of the law and avoid Anne Jones’s wrath, we’ve put together a more detailed guide that outlines the rules for mobile marketing.

Clanger 2. Fail to Use an Opt Out

This clanger is related to the first one in that it’s all about compliance with the ICO rules. You’re required to give customers an opt out on each marketing text that you send them.

Companies need to give a…

…simple opportunity to refuse or opt out of the marketing, both when first collecting the details and in every message after that. 

To opt out the customer would normally just reply ‘stop’ to the text. It’s then up to the sender to apply an ‘opt out’ flag against that person so that they don’t receive anything else.

The opt out rules don’t apply to texts that aren’t selling. So if you’re informing customers about credit levels or something relating to their account, then you don’t need to use an opt out.

Penalties for failing aren’t as severe as they are for spam but you’d still get fined and join the ICO hall of shame.

Clanger 3. Send too many texts

pensive clanger

If your first SMS marketing campaign goes well and you can measure an uplift in click throughs, phone calls or whatever your chosen metric is, it’s o so tempting to follow it up with another campaign to recreate the magic.

A lower response rate makes you wonder whether the offer or the timing was wrong, so you send out a further text which you’re sure is even better than the original.

Still underwhelmed with the reaction from your customers and rather alarmed by the number of unsubcribers?

What we have here is a simple case of SMS fatigue. You’ve basically pissed off your customers by sending them too much stuff.

The joy of SMS is that texts are never ignored. According to Frost and Sullivan,

 98% of all texts get read compared to just 22% of emails

But this also means that if you bombard your customers, you’re likely to pay a price.

Less is more.

Clanger 4. Send Baffling Texts


A text contains just 160 precious characters. In that, your text has to achieve the following.

  • Announce who you are
  • Make an enticing offer
  • Tell customers how to respond
  • Give an easy opt out route

All preferably done with charm, humour and a sense of urgency. It’s no mean feat.
The temptation is to look at ever more cunning ways to reduce the number of characters needed for each element.

You can easily end up sending a text that’s bang on 160 characters but doesn’t really make much sense.

I recently received a text from Save The Children, with weird unsubscribe instructions that I couldn’t make sense of.

 To skip reply SKIP/call 02032827862 

I’m just not sure what that means.

So to avoid punter bafflement, send a text as you would send an email. Use normal, jargon free English and keep any abbreviations to a minimum.

Clanger 5. Fail to optimise the web site for mobile

mobile marketing clanger

Most SMS marketing texts encourage customers to click through to a website where they can find out more or respond to the offer in question.

It’s fairly obvious then that the click through site should be properly optimised for mobile, offering the user as good an experience as they would have on the main site.

Surprisingly, many companies seem to pay lip service to optimising their websites for mobile.

Often the homepage will be great on a mobile but deeper pages are ignored and are rendered unusable by massive images or lengthy, off-putting text.

Before launching your campaign, think like a customer. Send the text to you and your colleagues. Click through to the website.

How was the experience? Did the site load OK. Could you respond easily?

The charity WaterAid sent me a text quite recently with a link to their website. On clicking through, I was faced with page of more or less unbroken text.

bad mobile web experience from water aid
Uninspiring blocky text from Water Aid

To be fair, there were a few photos but I didn’t feel encouraged to discover more or click on further into the site.

According to Ofcom,

 One in six adults in the UK now only use smartphones or tablets to go online – Up 10% from last year. 

So it’s increasingly vital that we take mobile optimisation more seriously and do the detailed work to make the whole mobile experience more exciting and responsive.

Clanger 6. Don’t Use a URL Shortener

Wise mobile marketing clanger

With just 160 to play with, every character counts.  An easy and obvious  way of maximising the number of characters you have available, is to shorten the website address using one of the many URL shorteners .

It’s an easy way to win back a few characters.

There are loads to choose from and they’re all free. Three of the most popular ones are…             

tiny url_logo
owly logo

         TinyURL                     Bitly

The health club Bannatyne’s, recently sent me text quoting their whole URL, a hefty 26 characters.

This could have been reduced to 12 or 13 with deft deployment of a shortener.


Clanger 7. Don’t Segment Your Data

mobile marketing clanger

One of the more powerful benefits of SMS as a marketing tool is that it’s easy to adapt your offer to different types of customer.

Most companies hold a vast amount of customer data that can be used to make their offers as relevant and as well targeted as possible.

So rather than sending everyone on the database the same text, you can segment customers into broad types, with each segment receiving a message that’s most likely to appeal to them.

Unlike every other direct marketing channel, there’s no additional cost in creating as many different types of message as you want.

So nimble-footed SMS can become the most targeted of all your marketing activity and if used conservatively will generate response rates to warm the hearts of the most battle weary troops.

Can we help at all?

I wonder if we might be able to throw some light on your mobile marketing conundrums?

Maybe you’ve been disappointed with the results, despite every industry expert wetting themselves with excitement about it.

Get in touch and we’ll gladly review your approach and come up with suggestions for the future strategy.

Feel free to set up an SMS Works account. You’ll receive 50 free credits for testing.

author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry