Monthly Archives: September 2011

Alaska Airlines SMS Offer FAIL

Not long ago I signed up to receive text-message promotions and offers from Alaska Airlines. I like Alaska Air. They are probably my favorite airline and I fly them whenever I can. They also seem to recognize the needs of a mobile traveler (is that redundant? does travel = mobile?) because they have smartphone apps, a mobile web site, and offer flight alerts via SMS.

Their latest SMS promotion said the following:

Mildly interesting, I guess, but I immediately have a series of thoughts.

  1. Why do I need to register? Wouldn’t I just get the credit?
  2. I’m probably not going to book a trip just because I can get double miles. Does this incentive really drive new bookings?
  3. Is this offer only good for today or the next few hours?

With my head filling with more questions than answers I click on the url and my (smart) phone browser displays:

(life-size image)

Ouch. What the heck is this? It appears to be a page on their main web site that is almost completely filled with text that is far too small to read. Even when I zoom in to the point where the type is legible it means I need to pan side-to-side in order to read a complete line.  I’m not doing this. It will be far too painful.

I do, however, scroll to the bottom to see just how long this page is and I find a couple form fields. One asks for my mileage plan number (don’t they already have it?) and the other asks where I heard about this offer, presumably in an effort to track the effectiveness of different channels at driving people to the offer. Zooming way in I tap the selector and there isn’t an option to say I heard about the offer via text-message.  This SMS effort appears to be an afterthought.



What could have saved this campaign?

To put it mildly, there is a lot of room for improvement here. Let’s start at the beginning with the SMS message and work our way through.

The main issue with the SMS is that it doesn’t conform to the standards of the Mobile Marketing Association’s Consumer Best Practices. Any broadcast message like this needs to have opt-out verbiage such as “reply STOP to cancel msgs”.  This is not only a rule it is the right thing to do for the recipient.

Next is the landing page. It wasn’t designed for mobile viewing and is almost a guaranteed poor user experience. It would not have been difficult or expensive to build a single mobile landing page that displays the details of the offer, the terms, and an entry form to capture registrations. Using a non-mobile page will significantly impact participant opt-out rates (assuming you’ve told them how to opt-out). The odd thing here is that Alaska Airlines has a mobile site at

Finally, Alaska Air should be holding mobile marketing efforts to a higher standard of accountability. I’m pretty sure that they can’t track anything associated with this effort.

  1. They are using a vanity url which will only tell you the number of clicks. It won’t allow you to carry through recipient information like mobile number or even the mileage plan number. They will never know who actually clicked.
  2. They are gathering user-reported source info but not including SMS as one of the options. They will probably never know if the SMS generated any registrations.

iLoop Mobile Demo Fail

Having attended one of the many webinars put on by mobile marketing firm, iLoop Mobile, I visited their web site and noticed the following among their rotation of hero banners on their main page: Of course I did what I was told. I texted ILOOPDEALS to the number. Almost instantly I was a confirmed member.

“iLoop Mobile Deals Alerts: you are now a member. 1msg/week. Msg&DataRatesMay Apply. Reply HELP for help. Reply STOP to cancel. HELP: 877.561.8045.”

No problems there, though it wasn’t all that engaging. Two days later I received two text-message ‘offers’ (Oops! I was only supposed to get 1msg/week). The first offer was for TGIF restaurants and included a link to a mobile site to sign up for TGIF Rewards (Do people really go to TGIF so often?) The other offer was as follows:

I was immediately confused. Whose sweepstakes was this? Dodge? Maybe, but it didn’t really say. The TGIF message started out with “TGIF:” so I knew it who it was from. Confusion aside, I tapped on the url anyway and was taken to a page that took a very long time to load (not usually a good sign).  My patience was not to be rewarded, however. Here is what I got:

Really? A non-mobile web site with a painfully long form to fill out? This picture is just about life-size so you can see how small things are. It’s clearly a web site built for large computer monitors. No way.



What could have saved this campaign?

There is absolutely no excuse for this. iLoop Mobile bills itself out as experts in mobile marketing. Their demo should be flawless.

  1. If they say 1 Msg/week then they should have stopped after the TGIF message. Is their system broken? Are they disorganized?
  2. Few things ruin a mobile web experience more than being sent to site that wasn’t designed to be viewed on a mobile device. This one is doubly painful as it immediately asks you to fill out a huge form and doesn’t tell you anything about the sweepstakes.

Emerald City Smoothie Blends Up a Big Fail

This post contributed by Derek Johnson – Tatango SMS Marketing.

I’ve seen some pretty bad SMS campaigns since we started Tatango in 2007, but a new Emerald City Smoothie campaign here in Seattle takes the cake when it comes to worst SMS campaign of 2011, or smoothie in this case. Today I snapped the following photo of this new SMS campaign, encouraging customers to text “alltxt ECS1″ to 368674. Emerald City Smoothie SMS Campaign

Before even getting into what happens when you text “alltext ECS1″ to 368674, I wanted to start with what is wrong with this advertisement.

  1. Emerald City Smoothie has completely ignored the three requirements for print advertising set by the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices. These include 1) displaying additional carrier costs “Msg&Data Rates May Apply”, 2) a resource such as a phone number or website where subscribers can reference all terms and conditions and 3) instructions on canceling or opting-out of the service “Text STOP to stop”. See section 1.2-4 for more info.
  2. Mixing of lowercase and uppercase letters in a keyword is never a good idea, as shifting between the two letter sets is confusing for some mobile users. The key for any SMS campaign is to make the opt-in process as simple and smooth as possible, but Emerald City Smoothie doesn’t care.
  3. Including spaces in a keyword is also never a good idea, as some would be subscribers will enter the keyword into their mobile phones without spaces, in-turn giving an error to the customer. Try it, text “AlltxtECS1″ to 368674.
  4. The last thing I saw wrong with this advertisements is the actual selection of the word for the keyword. With keywords you always want them to have some relevance to your product, industry, company brand, etc. Emerald City Smoothie in this SMS campaign has picked a keyword “Alltxt ECS1″ that has no relevance to anything, and sounds more like a computer command than an actual word. (Update: Someone just pointed out that ECS1 is most likely initials for Emerald City Smoothie, with a “1″ appended to the end. This makes more sense now, but shit, if I didn’t realize that, how many other customers won’t as well)

After you text message “alltext ECS1″ to 368674 though, that’s when the real shit-show begins with this SMS campaign.

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Marketing Campaign

Lets breakdown what is wrong with the message above.

  1. First off, what the heck is ALLTXT.ORG, and what does it have to do with Emerald City Smoothie? After visting ALLTXT.ORG, the answer is completely nothing. It looks like possibly ALLTXT is the company managing this shit-show of a campaign, but I’m still not clear why it’s displayed at the top of the message. Very confusing from a customers perspective.
  2. Why does it say (1/1) in the message. I could see reasoning for (1/2) if there were multiple messages, but what’s the point of (1/1) if it takes up valuable characters and confuses the potential subscriber.
  3. Double opt-in from a mobile keyword? This is over-kill, even the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices only requires a single opt-in when using a keyword from a mobile phone. This additional step is excessive and makes the process of opting into this SMS campaign more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. I’m still confused as to what ECS1 is, and telling me to reply YES to “follow ECS1″ is making me think Emerald City Smoothie is now talking about Twitter. As defined in Twitter speak by the Twittonary (Twitter’s version of the dictionary), “follow” is someone choosing to sign up to receive someones tweets.

Ok, lets say I bite and reply YES, then it gets worse… way worse. Emerald City SMS Marketing CampaignWhat makes this even worse?

  • Again with the ALLTXT.ORG – Who are these guys?
  • As before, Emerald City Smoothie has ignored the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices and left out key information in the confirmation message such as additional carrier costs “Msg&Data Reates May Apply”, frequency of messaging and customer support information “text HELP for help”. (See section 1.5-7 for more info.) At least they told subscribers how to opt-out, I give them credit for that.
  • Again with the “ECS1″, still not sure who I’m following, or if we’re still talking about SMS.
  • Again with the (1/1)…
  • Another mystery word has been added… “DOMZ” now appears in parenthesis at the bottom of the text message. I’m familiar with DMOZ, but this DOMZ is a mystery to me and this whole thing is starting to feel like The Da Vinci Code with all of these mystery codes.

But wait, all may be saved as my finger hovers over the link to “get the app”. Have the mobile gods just been screwing with me up until now, possibly leaving the best for last? As I wait for my browser to load, I imagine downloading a beautiful mobile app, with mobile optimized photos, videos and even a cool nearest location finder. I even imagine myself letting out a little joyful shout as order my favorite smoothie right from my mobile phone. Unfortunately, after I click on the URL, what I see in front of me resembles what I would imagine it would look like if the mobile gods had taken a big ol’ shit on my mobile phones browser. First, this isn’t a mobile app, it’s a mobile website. Second, the mobile website isn’t even finished… I can’t even tell if it’s been started. Does anyone at Emerald City Smoothie even test things before they push them live?

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Website

Ok, there may be one shred of hope here in saving Emerald City Smoothie from being put at the top of my list for worst SMS campaigns of 2011. I wince as I push the button titled “ALERT: Special Message”. As the page loads I pray for at least a mobile coupon, or after this train-wreck of an SMS campaign, even a picture of a cute dog or girl in a bikini would have made me smile.

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Website 2

NOOOO!!! Damn you Emerald City Smoothie, you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m back at the very beginning where we started, telling me to text “ALLTEXT ECS1″ to 368674. Without further ado, I crown you the worst SMS campaign of 2011.

Congratulations Emerald City Smoothie! You have just been crowned by @thederekjohnson as the worst worst SMS campaign of 2011. (Tweet This)


What could have saved this campaign?

Well, Derek pretty much points out the epic nature of this fail but here are your blog moderator’s comments:

This campaign is using a shared short code. While services that share a code exist for a very good reason they come with additional risk. A fail like this can raise the eyebrows of the mobile operators. If they don’t like what they see and it doesn’t conform to the MMA rules they have every right to shut off the short code.  When that happens every company using the code will be shut off, too. Services like Tatango, enforce MMA compliance in the way their service is configured and are far less likely to have a single customer put the entire code at risk.

Also, I don’t really blame Emerald City Smoothie on this one – not completely at least. They are smoothie experts not mobile marketing experts. The problem is that doesn’t (or likely can’t) provide their customers with strategic guidance as to how to promote the opportunity to engage via mobile. Though, you would have thought someone at ECS would have tested the process to see just how broken it is.