Opinion

The foolproof guide to not spamming your valued customers and/or the general populace

This week saw another big Australian company fined for spamming its own customers. 

Outdoor Supacentre was fined $300,000 for sending over 80,000 spam texts to people who hadn’t given permission to be harangued with crazy camping deals. 

After sending five ‘compliance alerts’, (read: warning shots), the Australian Communications and Media Authority slapped them with the fine. 

By my count, that makes more than $12.5 million in fines that businesses in Australia have been hit with in just the last 18 months for breaching the spam rules.

In September, Uber was fined $412,500 for sending out 2 million spam texts with no unsubscribe option, all on a single day in January – including half a million texts to people who had already actively unsubscribed. 

The same month, Kmart copped a $1.3 million fine for sending 212,471 messages, peppered over a year-long period, to customers who had previously unsubscribed.

Last October, Ticketek copped a $515,040 fine for sending out marketing emails and texts without permission.

Doordash were hit with a $2 million fine for sending over half a million promotional emails to customers who had unsubscribed, and – seemingly finding a loophole – sent half a million more without an unsubscribe option at all.

Last June, Auto & Tyre copped a million-dollar spam fine, while in the same month the Commonwealth Bank was hit with the largest fine on record, a whopping $3.5 million for sending 61 million marketing emails to customers that then required them to log in just to unsubscribe. Madness.

So, the ACMA are really going after spammers. Good!

As ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said when delivering the Uber fine: “Consumers are fed up with their wishes not being respected. People rightly expect to have choice over who contacts them for marketing purposes.”

This is very true – and I commend the ACMA for stamping out salesy spam messages to the extent that the law allows. But the law doesn’t go far enough. Or rather, it should never get to the point where the law is involved, where companies are being fined millions of dollars for sending text messages to people who straight up don’t want them. 

It’s terrible business, under any measure. And every single business who uses texts or emails to promote goods or services should hold themselves to a metric similar to the political ‘pub test’ — and it should be this: 

If you were texting a friend-of-a-friend, unsolicited, at the same frequency you are sending out promotional texts, would it be weird?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then you are spamming. You are harming your business, and you should stop it. Allow me to single out a couple of companies who are stretching the friend-of-a-friendship. Let’s begin with the inappropriately intimate relationship between Australia Post and my phone.

Australia Post has been taking care of my letter and parcel needs since I first developed letter and parcel needs, and until a few years ago, if I ever thought of them at all, it was as a benign, vital service. Australia Post and its employees are cogs in our community – the postman weaving among the police officer, the fireman, the banker, the builder, and all those other characters in a well-functioning, Richard Scarry society. 

Nowadays, when I think of Australia Post, they rank alongside the Nigerian Prince, local sellers of REAL 100% GOLD, and giveaways_6378_99today@me.com as the most egregious inbox invaders of modern times.

For some reason, in order to get a box delivered to your door, you must now also embark upon a fiercely one-way phone relationship with Australia Post.

PING: Your delivery has been dispatched. PING: Your delivery is on the way. PING: Your parcel is (still) on the way. PING: Here is the tracking number for your parcel. PING: Your parcel will be delivered today. PING: Your parcel will (still) be delivered today. PING: Your parcel will be delivered. If there is no safe place to deliver it, we will take it to a post office two bus-rides away. PING: Your parcel has been delivered. PING: How was the delivery? We nailed it, yeah? PING: How did we do? PING: Remember that sweet delivery we did? Any thanks, or anything? PING: Some feedback would be appreciated. PING: Do you have any concerns with your delivery? PING: It was 38 degrees after all, and don’t get me started on your yapping little dog whenever I get near your front gate. PING: You know we could read your postcards if we wanted to. PING: You seem to hate Australia Post. We have sent a red angry emoji to customer feedback on your behalf for further action. Expect a text from them within the next 48 hours. PING: This is Australia Post. We are disappointed to hear our delivery did not live up to….

The irony: When a parcel doesn’t get delivered, or arrives water-logged and rugby-kicked, Australia Post definitely hear about it. Their staff are hassled so often that the post office my parcels are left at (so the fourth-closest to my house) has signage basically saying: if you raise your voice, we will call the cops.

PING.

Sometimes the spam is so desperate that it comes across sweetly. Which brings me to my second example.

During the pandemic, when all the major sporting codes around the world were suddenly placed on pause, as if an EA Sports video game mid-beer run, Sportsbet panicked and sent me (and thousands of others) a text message, just letting us know that we can now bet on table-tennis matches. Table tennis.

I chose not to wager on the ping-pong, but watched with keen interest over the coming days as Sportsbet offered a range of pursuits to bet on, some involving tantalising odds on darts games, some only slightly north of rooster-fighting. Desperate times, and all that. It reminded me of that scene in The Last Dance where Michael Jordan is harassing the Bulls staff to play quarters with him in the dressing room before the game, such is his insatiable appetite for gambling.

Before I eventually yelled STOP at whatever robot runs their text promotions, Sportsbet were keeping me up to date numerous times a week with the various multis and doubles and over/unders and 2-fers and whatever combination of madness they could throw together in order to appeal to the gambler in me. 

Here’s a sample period from 2021, dug from the depths of my phone.

July 1: “GET BIGGER ODDS TONIGHT! Nathan, check out the BIGGEST range of AFL Same Game markets on tonight’s match! 

July 3: “4 MASSIVE AFL games for your Saturday, Nathan. 

July 6: “A BLOCKBUSTER SEMI FINAL! Nathan, Spain takes on the red-hot Italy for a spot in the Euros Final!

July 8: “BET WITH MATES TONIGHT! Nathan, get your 3+ Leg AFL Same Game Multis.

July 10: 3 HUGE AFL games for your Saturday, Nathan. 

(It’s worth pausing here to note that I have never placed an AFL bet, so these aren’t particularly well targeted).

July 11: “THE EUROS FINAL IS HERE!

(Never bet on soccer, either).

July 14: “BET WITH MATES ON ORIGIN TONIGHT”

July 15: “BET WITH MATES ON THE FOOTY!”

July 17: “EVER TRIED AN AFL H2H MULTI? Nathan, with so much AFL footy on today…”

That’s nine gambling advertisements within 17 days, complete with links and details (and, of course, a warning), sent directly to my phone.

The only difference I can think of between myself and Michael Jordan is that I tend to only place a bet once every few years – my only notable win to date has been on an Archibald Prize winner – so I’m not really the target market here. 

However, if I was the type to harang subordinates to play quarters with me in the middle of a championship run, then I might be in trouble with this targeted text bombardment. It’s all legal, though.

Sportsbet are playing by the rules. They let you opt out with a simple reply text. They tell me T&Cs apply, to set a deposit limit, that CHANCES ARE YOU’RE ABOUT TO LOSE. This is a good form of texting. You get to opt out, and then they leave you alone.

Still, dude… nine texts in 17 days?

A friend of a friend would never do this.

Most of these companies that cop fines also agree to ‘undertakings’ which require them to give regular compliance reports to the ACMA, and train its staff on Australia’s spam laws. But this comes too late. It comes millions-of-dollars and hundreds of thousands of pissed-off customers too late. 

You may well be excited by the product you are selling — and your use of all caps suggest as much — but to most of us, you’re just yelling. And we don’t remember giving you our phone numbers.

It’s time to be a better friend-of-a-friend.

Enjoy your weekend!


This week, we also launched the first episode of Mumbrella’s new one-on-one podcast series.

Mumbrella editor and host Neil Griffiths is joined by one of the headliner acts of this year’s Mumbrella360 conference and the former chief marketing officer of Nike, Greg Hoffman.

In part one of this in-depth conversation, Griffiths and Hoffman talk about the CMO’s 28-year stint at Nike and look back at some memorable campaigns, including working with iconic figures like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Listen to the full episode here.

ADVERTISEMENT

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.

 

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.