AT&T’s American Idol Text Message Promotion Out Of Key


imageWith 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.



What a scam, I think some people have to pay for the text.. .20 cents or so. That could be more than a million in revenue for an unsolicited text!! Whats wrong with this picture. Thanks AT&T

Carrier Cop

The new FCC chairman of President-elect Obama will have the challenge of promoting open networks and at the same time, establishing regulation for spectrum use by carriers and third-parties. SMS evolved from a back-channel of voice that is designed for call setup and control from tower to handset. NTT DoCoMo was the first to apply the channel for texting. U.S. carriers are loading this control channel for the high margin feature of text messages. The two largest U.S. carriers are claiming to have greater than 50% increases in average data revenue in year-on-year and about $12 per month of the average total bill. But the majority of the reported growth in data is just texting. Basically, carriers are billing about $10/month to the average customer for a free channel in the spectrum. Additionally, carriers are sharing in the ad revenue from promotions like the American Idol texting.

Stephen Fleming

Any organization that can release a Web page as execrable as AT&T's '' is incapable of performing any marketing more meaningful than running a Yellow Pages ad.

If AT&T were "marketing" sushi, they'd describe it as "cold dead fish."


I think its a wonderful way for brands to interact with consumers as long as we have a way to opt-out. AT&T should have some page to manage our likes and dislikes as to what want to receive and how often. They should also incentivise the end user rather than simply messaging them with info. Time is money and they are taking peoples time and getting paid for it…. that should be passed off to the end user somehow.


Man it's just a text message what is a big deal. Marketing is getting expensive this another way for you to get the message.


If nearly 75,000,000 received the text and only a few hundred complained, I'd say you're writing the wrong story. Instead, why don't you write about the fact that that texting has boomed in just a few short years (very few people were texting 10 years ago) and even corporate giants are harnessing the power of simple, short messages… or how 10 years ago at&t would have had to mail 75,000,000 postcards at a cost of $50,000,000, and how cost effective text marketing is… and how "green" it is… how many trees were saved… Can you write anything that is the least bit insightful or that has a possitive spin. C YA L8TR

Brett Leary

Besides the obvious SPAM question, the issue as I see it, is that we have a double standard in play for Carriers versus marketers when adhering to established mobile marketing guidelines.

Wireless Carriers, AT&T included, strictly enforce adherence to their own mobile marketing rules and to the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) Best Practices Guidelines – which clearly state that users MUST opt-in to receive messages from a marketer regardless if the messages are standard rated or free-to-end user (FTEU). (Yes, Carriers can waive opt-ins at their choosing, but in this case they are promoting a TV program that they happen to have the exclusive text messaging voting rights to – seems to be a disconnect.)

So what gives AT&T the right to send out messages to their subscribers to promote a television program via unsolicited SMS – especially to those subs who may have never voted via SMS for the Idol show a.k.a “heavy texters”?

Many people in the Mobile Industry will interpret this action by AT&T as a double standard fueled by greed.

Wally WatchDog

AT&T's American Idol texting will be substantive evidence for Sen. Herb Kohl to continue the review of texting costs in the Senate Commerce Committee. Carriers have countered Sen. Kohl's probe into the increasing text prices with the argument of infrastructure costs from higher volume. The American Idol texting will be an example of how much of the increased costs for texting platforms is from carriers spamming with their own texts as well as third-party content with revenue sharing.

Jaimee Steele

Interestingly, comScore M:Metrics finds that the majority of people receiving SMS ads are getting them from their carrier. In October, 29 million of the 47 million people who received an ad via SMS got it from their operator. Out of those receiving ads from other companies, most were from companies to whom the user did not give permission.

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