Alex Steer

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Starbucks and L'Oreal are, apparently, trialling a new location-based mobile marketing service with O2.

What this means, in human-speak, is that if you've told O2 you're interested in, say, food and drink, whenever you walk past a Starbucks you'll get an SMS or MMS on your phone telling you you can get coffee there (in case you don't know what a Starbucks is, presumably), and maybe offering a discount coupon. As BrandRepublic explains:

When opted-in O2 More customers are enter a geo-fenced area 'owned' by Starbucks, and they have registered an interest in food and drink, they will receive an SMS offering them money off at a nearby branch of Starbucks[...] O2 said that such a service does not infringe its customers' privacy because it is opt-in and they make the opportunity to opt out obvious for them. It does not send spam, only messages that are relevant to the customers' registered interests.

Okay, so technically not spam, by this agreed definition, since you have to sign up for O2 More, O2's direct marketing channel.

But it's a Faustian version of spam: the kind of thing that's easy to agree to when you sign up. The kind that, I'll bet, feels like you're being spammed every time you walk past a Starbucks and your phone starts beeping.

Push messaging is at once one of the most intrusive and one of the most disappointing channels. Not only does it come without warning, it comes disguised as something you might really care about, in the form of a beep on your handset, the sort of thing that more normally signifies a message from a friend. I'm not sure any coupon can make up for that.

And, of course, geo-fencing may not always be so responsibly gatekept. The technology exists, and is presumably more cost-effective the less discerningly it is used (though I could be wrong - any experts on the economics of mobile reading this?).

So could we be entering an age of frontier spambulation, where every trip down the high street is punctuated with exploding offers in your pocket?

I really, really hope not. Especially because the idea of a share of the world's air being 'owned' by a retail chain, though already one of the tenets of private property, somehow seems more obnoxious when that air is being used to hurl cheap marketing messages through.

File it under, 'Just because you can, doesn't mean you should'.

# Alex Steer (17/10/2010)