With a record-breaking 78 million text messages sent on AT&T’s network during last year’s American Idol season, it’s no wonder the TV show’s sponsor figured people would want a reminder that this year’s season kicked off last night. In doing so, AT&T (NYSE: T) a “significant number” of customers a promotional text this week telling recipients to “Get ready for American Idol” and pointed them to a company Web site promoting an “Idol”-related sweepstakes, according to The International Herald Tribune. It also noted that recipients were not charged for the message, and that they could opt out of future advertisements by responding with the word “stop,” but that didn’t stop people from complaining on Twitter about the messages. “AT&T just sent me a text message advertisement about ‘American Idol.’ Evil,” wrote a Twitter user named Joe Brockmeier. “The economic downturn definitely means a spam upswing.” Nick Dawson wrote: “Seriously AT&T? Did you just text me twice during a meeting to tell me about ‘American Idol?’ Very professional!” Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman, said the message was sent out to a significant number of the company’s 75 million customers. Siegel: “It makes perfect sense to use texting to tell people about a show built on texting.”
This is exactly how a promotional ad campaign can go wrong — it seems AT&T could have limited the promotion to people who participated in last year’s season. Better yet, the message could be customized to match the person’s likes or dislikes based on how they voted last year. Everyone talks about how mobile has the ability to target better than any other medium, and that targeting is the key to making people believe it’s not spam, but it doesn’t appear that companies are taking advantage of that yet.