Bluetooth marketing: opt in vs broadcast

Most mobiles come with Bluetooth as standard but there is still some confusion over how it can be used for marketing – Mark Brill from txt4ever and the DMA’s Mobile Council explains how to implement innovative proximity campaigns, without falling foul of the law.

What was once an exclusive feature of top-of-the-range mobile phones, Bluetooth has now become an integral feature of all new handsets. Its extraordinary capabilities also offer great potential for innovative proximity marketing campaigns. However, while the technology is there, Bluetooth as a marketing channel has suffered from widespread confusion about exactly how it can be used and the rules and regulations that govern it.

The basics

Using an advanced form of radio technology, Bluetooth is a versatile broadcast medium that can transmit data or files, such as video, pictures and applications from devices over short distances without the need or cost of network connection.

There are many advantages to using it for proximity marketing: it is available on most mobile phones, it can transfer large amounts of data quickly, it does not require access to a mobile phone network and it does not cost anything for the user to receive the content. The improvements in broadcasting technology and software also mean that setting up and running a Bluetooth campaign can be done quickly and easily. “The key to a successful Bluetooth proximity marketing campaign is to provide a clear incentive or offer, explain why you are communicating and gain the trust of the user.” The practical issues of executing a Bluetooth campaign are relatively straightforward: Once a suitable location is identified, a Bluetooth broadcast unit must be placed in situ. Broadcast ranges vary, but a single unit can typically transmit to a distance of 40 metres. These units are essentially small boxes containing a PC. They can be controlled via a Windows interface or remotely via an internet connection. Management software allows the marketer to control which files are sent to users, the distance that it will operate, how many times it will retry each user and opting out users who reject files. When a Bluetooth-enabled phone enters into range of the unit, the handset will be prompted to accept the content or ‘pair’ with this device.

Managing a campaign

The key to a successful Bluetooth proximity marketing campaign is to provide a clear incentive or offer, explain why you are communicating and gain the trust of the user. Approximately 30% of people have their Bluetooth turned on all of the time, and most only do so because they are using a hands-free headset. Therefore, without displays clearly announcing a call to action, the average mobile user will either fail to turn on their Bluetooth or simply reject the content when an unrecognised request appears on their phone. Depending on the objective, marketers have generally deployed Bluetooth marketing campaigns using public networks in places such as train stations and shopping centres, or through private networks which are typically used for specific campaigns in stores or at events. A prime example of a public network can be found in Victoria Station in south-west London, where a large blue circle on the ground in front of the information boards marks out a dedicated ‘Bluetooth zone’. This zone has been used for a number of campaigns, the most notable of which was for the launch of season four of Sky One’s flagship TV show ‘Lost’. Commuters standing within the zone could download applications for free, such as Lost-themed wallpaper and ringtones, and content such as programme images and the series’ trailer. Private networks, however, offer greater targeting potential over public networks. Bacardi Rum, for example, used a private network at a series of music festivals around the world to reach out to its core target market of 18-34 year-olds. At well-branded designated locations, Bacardi used Bluetooth to send drinks vouchers and encouraged users to interact with the brand by inviting them to send their own photos and messages via the network, which were then displayed on a large screen. Levi’s Jeans has also run similar campaigns in European cities. But, rather than using fixed units, representatives of the brand carried backpacks with Bluetooth units and small screens. In spite of its immense potential for engaging with consumers, however, marketers do need to take into consideration some important factors when planning Bluetooth campaigns. For instance, places such as London Underground do not readily lend themselves to hosting Bluetooth zones because of its infrastructure and the fact that few people dwell long enough to receive any content. Tracking a user once they have left a Bluetooth zone can also be problematic. A Bluetooth connection to a mobile does not provide the marketer with a phone number or user information, so tracking a user requires some form of registration.

Rules and regulations

As a nascent and underdeveloped marketing channel, there has been significant confusion within the industry as to the issue of securing consent from consumers to reach them through Bluetooth. Until recently, it was widely assumed that Bluetooth was covered by the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. However, in 2007 the Information Commissioner ruled that Bluetooth is not part of the mobile network and as such is exempt from the 2003 Regulations. “There is little to prevent unscrupulous marketers from engaging in scattershot campaigns, bombarding every consumer in the vicinity who happens to have Bluetooth enabled on their phone.” The rules that require opt-in for email and SMS campaigns do not apply to Bluetooth. This means that there is little to prevent unscrupulous marketers from engaging in scattershot campaigns, bombarding every consumer in the vicinity who happens to have Bluetooth enabled on their phone. The ASA’s CAP Code is also vague on this matter as Bluetooth is not covered by the code’s data section. Furthermore, if the advertiser is not using a private network or paid advertising space, Bluetooth may not even be covered by other areas of the CAP Code. To fill in this grey area, the DMA’s Mobile Marketing Council has produced the first set of best practice guidelines for Bluetooth proximity marketing. The guidelines stress the need to gain clear consent from mobile users and provide the opportunity to opt-out, as well as setting out the terms for broadcast range and the management of contact retries. These guidelines currently stand in lieu of government regulations. While they hold no legal power, the Direct Marketing Commission – the independent body responsible for monitoring compliance with the DMA Code of Practice – could impose sanctions on member companies found to be in breach of the guidelines. Mobile phones are devices that the majority of people carry with them most of the time. As such, it is a highly personal and even private medium. Marketing to mobiles needs to be done with care and consideration to the user. While well-run campaigns can offer excellent response rates, poorly run campaigns can seriously damage a brand and the credibility of mobile as a marketing medium.

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