AT&T's 'American Idol' Text Message Stunt Backfires

AT&T spammed a “‘significant number’ of its 75 million customers” yesterday with text messages advertising the premiere of American Idol. AT&T also pissed off a significant number of its 75 million customers in the process, and the company’s justification for the blitz isn’t exactly making AT&T sound smart when it comes to understanding what qualifies as spam.

From the New York Times:

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T Wireless… said the message went to subscribers who had voted for “Idol” singers in the past, and other “heavy texters.” He said the message could not be classified as spam because it was free and because it allowed people to decline future missives.

So, you know, AT&T says it isn’t spam. Stop calling it that, angry AT&T customers! And Spamhaus!

Richard Cox, the chief information officer for Spamhaus, a nonprofit antispam organization based in Britain, countered: “It’s absolutely spam. It’s an unsolicited text message. People who received it didn’t ask for it. That’s the universal definition of spam.”

The FTC has already said that what AT&T did isn’t illegal, since there’s an opt-out and it isn’t misleading.

But forget about the FTC; AT&T might want to think about what their customers define as spam. MarketingVox points out that “an email marketing survey released in March 2008 found users increasingly define spam as any unwanted message — whether or not they opted to receive them.”

AT&T says the text messages only went to “heavy texters,” but even that term seems to be up for debate:

No metrics were provided for what constituted “heavy texters.” But at least one recipient, Evan Lowenstein, argued Siegel’s defense was a “downright lie.”

“On AT&T I have a 250 txt/mo plan and to date have maybe sent a total of 50 text messages over the course of the 4 or 5 months,” Lowenstein stated, suggesting that by any metric he could hardly be considered a “heavy texter.”

We rub our nipples idly and dismiss you from the auditioning room, AT&T. Come back when you have a better ear for what constitutes spam.

“A Text Arrives. Oh, It’s Just an ‘Idol’ Ad.” [New York Times] (Thanks to zimmi88!)
“Unwanted ‘American Idol’ Text Message Backfires on AT&T” [MarketingVox]