Mobile marketing in the USA is still orienting itself. It is drawing from the experiences of countries such as Finland, where the use of mobile phones has long been a part of consumers' everyday lives. A group of experts gathered in Washington DC expressed particular concern about the legal position of minors as cell phone users.
At the beginning of May, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission organized a meeting in Washington DC to examine the status and development of mobile markets in the USA. Since mobile phones have been part of consumers' everyday lives for a particularly long time in Finland, the Finnish Consumer Agency was invited to talk about underage cell phone users' point of view, legal position, and overall situation.
The event was part of a program on mobile markets that was designed to bring together different business areas, numerous organizations, and other actors to discuss current events and development trends. The goal is to encourage the business sector to institute appropriate practices through self-regulation and other means.
Differences in regulatory environment and cell phone use as compared with Finland
There are many basic differences between the circumstances in the USA and in Finland. The emphasis in the USA is largely on self-regulation, and privacy protection, for example, is not as tightly regulated as in Finland. Only 35% of young teenagers have a cell phone, and text messages are not used as much as in Europe. There is a fee both for sending and receiving text messages. There are no public blocking services, but operators develop their own, usually offered for a fee. On the U.S. markets, there are no TV games or quick loans available via cell phone. Product placement and direct marketing aimed at children are allowed.
The discussion touched on the same subjects that were prominent in Finland a few years ago. Television is losing its marketing significance, while there is a push to increase the use of mobile devices as a marketing channel. Positioning services and games generated much discussion. A cell phone is a constant companion especially for young people, and they also spend a lot of time on computers, which is something marketers want to take commercial advantage of. Besides being a marketing tool, a cell phone is also a tool for interaction with a service provider, and a means of payment. The time is ripe for more progressive mobile marketing.
The goal is to eliminate problems before they occur
The talks by consumer organizations highlighted consumer rights more broadly and suggested that it is not enough to offer consumers tools for preventing problems; instead, problems should be eliminated from the services themselves. With regard to minors, the emphasis was generally on protecting privacy, preventing misleading marketing and junk mail, keeping parents informed, and providing a way to check on age. Another theme that emerged was the need to have a more far-ranging discussion about marketing that is aimed at or otherwise encountered by children.
The lawyer Riitta Kokko-Herrala of Finland talked about Finnish legislation and showed examples of the Habbo website, TV games and quick loans directed at youth. In order to ensure confidence in mobile markets, it is critical that a user can be reliably identified. Appropriate technology to support this should be developed immediately.
Under Finnish law, children and young people are considered to be in a different position from other groups as targets of marketing. They need special protection, and marketing aimed at them is evaluated more strictly than marketing for other groups. This generated much positive discussion among the audience and panellists.
Mapping the mobile marketplace 6–7/5/2008 seminar website