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Ringtones marketing crackdown

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday November 10, 2007 )

If you’re selling ringtones or other cell phone related services, or are promoting these services as an affiliate – here’s an interesting legal development that’s occurred in Florida that may set the ball rolling to finally clean up an industry well known for dirty marketing tactics.

I was heavily into selling ringtones and related products for quite a while, and did very well from it. One of the reasons I wound down my participation in the industry were the increasing number of hidden “gotchas” being used in marketing the services that were catching unsuspecting consumers out. Companies and publishers were making huge bucks from these strategies, but it just didn’t sit well with me.

For example, a strategy most rampant are offers of free ringtones or other cell phone content that fool people into subscribing for paid services; expensive services – as much as 10 bucks a week. You’ve probably seen these sorts of ads on TV as well. I outlined a particularly devious online marketing campaign in a previous post; “Kids are online shoppers too“.

I’m all for “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware), but purposefully hiding or burying terms and conditions in literally fine print with the *intent* to decieve just stinks. I’ve been totally puzzled as to how after all these years of it going on that nobody has been rapped over the knuckles for it.

They have now.

AzoogleAds will be coughing up $1 million over to the Florida Attorney General’s office as a penalty for what Florida considers the deceptive online ringtones ads it let run in the state. Florida’s new CyberFraud Task Force found that people were registering for what they thought were just free ringtones, but the process also registered them to recurring billing subscription plans.

Future advertising will need to include full and noticeable disclosure. You can read the full agreement between AzoogleAds and the State of Florida here (PDF). Note that the agreement covers ads “presented by Azoogle or any of its contract publishers”; i.e. affiliates. If you’re participating in these sort of revenue generation programs; might be time to review the creatives you’ve been provided.

AzoogleAds isn’t the only company in Florida’s sights and perhaps where Florida has gone, other states and countries will follow. This is certainly a *good* thing as it will help clean up the industry.

As I’ve said before in other ramblings, if a merchant has to lie or intentionally deceive to sell stuff, that’s not good marketing and shouldn’t be aspired to as being a best practice. There’s no shades of gray, it’s just lies. If these are the lengths that are needed to cranks sales; then there’s something wrong with the product – makes more sense to work on that.

Additionally, with consumers becoming increasingly empowered and looking more to each other for service recommendations and warnings on scams, a fast buck can still be made using questionable tactics, but it won’t work for as long as it has in the past. The age of transparent marketing is nearly upon us – and that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

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1 comment for Ringtones marketing crackdown
  1. I felt a surge of optimism after reading this post.

    Hype and bulldust perveyors are a blight on all businesses online and off.

    Comment by Ern — November 11, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

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