SMS Marketing Compliance: The What, Why And What Nots

November 11, 2022 Julio Romero

Reading time about 7min


SMS Marketing Compliance: The What, Why And What Nots

Winback Team on May 31, 2021 6:30:00 AM

With dozens of apps now being used to communicate when using a mobile device, it is a wonder why SMS messaging is not getting booted out of the system. The reason is simple: SMS or text messaging is still a secure and simple way to send and receive messages. And with SMS Marketing Compliance, regulatory bodies hope to keep it that way.

SMS Marketing Compliance

Although text messages are not common anymore as many apps have been introduced to carry out the task more efficiently and interactively, but in Marketing, SMS still remains the number one way of customer outreach and retention.

If you ever get messages from a brand you visited (online or in-person) once and consented to receive promotions, then you have experienced SMS Marketing. This marketing style is a way to let your customers know what’s new about your business to make them come back.Unlike email marketing, people do read text messages more often, and they are easy to execute; they are simple, short, and need no complicated graphics. In addition to that, SMS marketing is instant; any information is delivered to the customer instantly.

If you come up with information that you need to relay to your customer, SMS marketing is the only marketing technique where a majority of your customers will have that information in a matter of minutes. Read our Complete Guide to SMS Marketing to learn more.

There are many third-party companies that offer SMS marketing services for a brand, like WinBack. In essence, all you need is a message and a list of phone numbers. Some companies even offer exclusive personalized messaging to customers to have a higher chance of retention.

However, you cannot just hire a messaging service and start sending out unsolicited information to your customers without knowing the compliance and rules that has been set by CTIA, enforced by TCPA, and advised by MMA.

The CTIA (Cellular Telecommunication and Internet Association) is an organization joined by cellular carriers in order to protect their customers against unwanted content.

The TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) was an act passed by FCC to ensure that all SMS marketing is carried out under some guidelines otherwise legal action can be faced.

The MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) has made these guidelines easy to follow by providing easy regulations that would result in avoiding non-compliance of the TCPA guidelines; it’s like an SMS marketing handbook for dummies.

Although the regulations provided in TCPA are much more detailed when it comes to telemarketing, SMS marketing fall under the same regulations.

Before You Start: Identify the Type of Campaign

One thing you need to start off with is to identify what kind of campaign you’re running. Different brands need SMS marketing for different reasons.

Some brands only run a campaign to inform the customers about product recalls or upgrades. Other brands aim to retain customers and send recurring messages to customers for new discounts, or reminders to come back to their brand for new products.

Some brands also send exclusive messages to customers as gratitude with an option to share exclusive one-time promo codes for a discount on the next purchase. Some take it up a notch and do mass discount codes to customers for very limited times.

Still, there are those who send a one-time message to the customers in their whole campaign such as informing the customers about the results of a lottery draw.

A one-time SMS campaign is called a ‘One-Off Program’ while the other kind is a Recurring program.


Handy Guide to SMS Marketing Compliance

There are several ways of following compliance, such as opting for a prewritten template or creating marketing messages from scratch and then keeping them stored until they’re ready to be sent. Although you can simply find templates, it would be best to understand how it works in case you need to create customized SMS marketing messages.

#1. Include Consent

Get the customer’s consent to be part of the SMS marketing campaign.

It is absolutely unethical and thus against the law to ‘harass’ customers if they haven’t signed up to receive brand updates. While One-off programs are much less complicated, TCPA governs that when it comes to recurring programs, you need to make sure that your customer consents to receive these messages.

There are two ways of doing so:

1. Confirmation Message

The first one is through a text-based message that the customer receives when they first sign up. The message gives the user information that they are consenting to receive texts from the specific business.

When the customer receives the message, there are a few things that need to be included in the text: your business name, frequency of texts they’ll be receiving, option to STOP receiving texts, a Help link if possible, and finally a link to your terms and conditions.

The reason for receiving messages also has to be made clear whether it’s for recalls, promotions, or any other reason. When the customer opts-in, a computer-generated contract has to be saved by your website or software program.

2. Webform

The other way of doing so is by simply providing the customer space for their phone number in a web-based form.

One problem with this is that one person can use another person’s phone number. For that, your customer agrees to the terms and conditions stating that they have typed in a correct phone number, for which they are liable themselves.

There must also be an option for the user to agree to receive SMS messages, such as a checkbox.

In addition to letting the customers sign up to consent, it has to be stated very clearly what their phone number will be used for. If that business intends to sell the customer information, even that has to be disclosed.

Just like with the confirmation message, you have to provide a link to the terms and conditions, as well as a link to further information about the SMS campaigns and how to unsubscribe.

This is why the identification of the campaign is important as you need to share that information honestly with your customer.

Finally, both Confirmation Messages and Webform sign-up needs to have Call to Action text or buttons. This informs the customer of what he needs to do next.


#2. Avoid False or Misleading Information

TCPA also requires that SMS marketing campaigns are truthful and to the point. Being truthful doesn’t only mean that the business is being truthful; it also means they are not hiding any information.

For instance, if a business runs a discount on most products but not on the new model of their product, they must include the words ‘exclusions apply’ in the text.

Similarly, some items may be taxable or non-taxable depending on the location, so words such as ‘plus tax in applicable states’ have to be added for those with tax.

Other kinds of misleading information may include misuse of statistics to prove your point such as ‘during the last 12 months, we have increased our revenue by 100%’ whereas it might have been done not by increasing sales but the prices.

The TCPA is very strict on these rules that a business that says $99.99 in their SMS promo cannot charge their customer $100 for that product.

#3. Be Clear

Clarity of language and time-frames are essential.

Since SMS marketing is mostly carried out by businesses, it is vital that the language used has to be clear of any ambiguity. Although the TCPA has more detailed guidelines for language usage, a quicker and simpler way to understand this is that you need to use professional language. Any kind of sexual, abusive, suspicious, or disrespectful language is prohibited and may end up causing legal actions.

In easy-to-remember terms, avoid SHAFT (Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco).

It obviously doesn’t apply to bars or tobacco vendors, but it is still considered a general rule.

The language itself may change depending on your customers’ language, but it should be coherent. If two different languages are being used simultaneously, the translations need to be accurate as well.

When it comes to time-frames, this applies mostly to businesses that are offering sales or discounts for limited times. The timings have to be clearly described.

You cannot just say there’s a sale till next Thursday. It has to be described as Thursday, 17th March. It is also advised that you add more specific details such as “until midnight” to make sure there’s no confusion at all.

#4 Inform of Charges

Message and data rates may apply.

You’ve most likely seen these words at the beginning of every text thread where you have to interact with the automated text system. It is very important that you need to notify the customer that they are responsible for their own data/message usage and your business is not liable for any charges they might incur.

Although data and message rates are insignificant now, the charges used to be extremely high when cellular technology was relatively new. The TCPA was established in 1991 and was later adjusted to include SMS marketing in 2007. During the 90s and early 2000s, cellular carriers were charging their customers significantly for text messages.

As the rule has existed since then, it has stayed in place because messaging is still expensive in a few places, and also some carriers charge for messages when the subscriber is out of their country.

#5 Include Necessary Prompts for Automated Messaging

Automated bots are used for messaging when the system is designed to offer a more interactive experience to the customer. In bot messages, TCPA requires the bot to list all the possible options the customer has, in order to interact with the bot.

Let’s say you have a restaurant and you design a bot SMS marketing campaign. When you send a message to your customer, such as:

“Would you like to see today’s special?”

You then need to add:

“Reply YES or NO”

This helps make sure the customer knows how they are supposed to interact with the bot.

Not all SMS marketing messages are sent by automated bots. Some SMS marketing messages are in random order and are a result of meetings between marketing personnel of the business who come up with ideas to communicate to their customers.

The messages that are interactive and involve bots are different in nature; they are more aimed towards letting customers access information specific to their needs.


What Happens if You Fail to Comply?

Much of this is unheard of, but some TCPA violators have paid up to $40 million per year in fines or as damages to their customers!

While most of these violations are for telephone marketing, TCPA gives power to customers who receive SMS marketing to sue for up to $500 in damages per violation in case the customer lost money.

And if the violator is found to be intentionally violating, the fines are $1,500 per violation. Even if there’s no victim, businesses that are found to be non-compliant can still be fined when discovered. So why risk it and when you can avoid these things altogether?

Related Content


The rules for SMS marketing are simple. You must ask the customer to opt-in in order to receive any messages and they can unsubscribe at any time via a simple message if they no longer wish to be contacted by you. In short, it is just like email marketing but without all the spam complaints!

If this sounds too complicated or if you worry that your company might not follow these guidelines, WinBack is here as an affordable solution. We offer expert advice on how best to send out SMS texts so that you will never have to worry about running afoul of TCPA regulations again while still getting more sales leads through text messaging campaigns.

Send us a message and let us know what kind of help you need from our team today!