• Pony Express HQ

SMS - Text Marketing Rules and Regulations: What you Need to Know

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

This guide is for informational purposes only. We recommend contacting an attorney to seek additional advice pertaining to the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and SMS - text marketing best practices in general.

Text (SMS) marketing has incredible ROI potential. Through SMS, you can reach at least 96% of US adults. Even better, once the text is delivered, up to 98% of recipients will open and read the message. Text messages also have a very high response rate.

For these reasons, more and more marketers are turning to SMS marketing to reach new markets and engage existing customers. You too should join the bandwagon. In any case, text marketing is one of the cheapest digital marketing options.

There’s just one thing you’ll need to keep in mind – the rules of the game!💡

Far from what most marketers think, you can’t just run your SMS marketing campaign as you wish. There are laws and regulations that guide the types of messages you can send when you can send them, how often you can send them, and many other aspects of SMS marketing.

Below, we discuss the main regulations to help you remain in compliance throughout your text marketing campaign. 💬

Text Marketing Rules and Regulations: What you Need to Know | Pony Express HQ
SMS - Text Marketing Rules and Regulations: What you Need to Know | Pony Express HQ

The Laws

There are three main pieces of legislation that govern text message marketing in the U.S.

1. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

The TCPA is a US legislation that governs all forms of telecommunication. Passed in 1991, it restricts telemarketing calls, faxes, emails, and messages where there's no consent.

With regards to text message marketing, the TCPA requires four things, i.e., prior express written consent, limit permissible abandoned calls on a per-calling campaign basis, an auto opt-out mechanism, and appropriate texting times. Also, the identity of the entity sending the message and the opt-out 🚫instructions must be included in the marketing messages, at least once monthly.

2. The CAN-Spam Act

The CAN-Spam (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act was passed by the US Congress in 2003. It institutes further rules to protect consumers and businesses from unwanted telemarketing messages.

The Act addresses a wide range of issues. For instance, it states that marketers cannot use false or misleading header information. Marketers also cannot use deceptive subject lines. Additionally, you must tell recipients where you’re located as well as honor opt-out requests promptly.

3. The Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

Since several brands in the US extend their marketing campaigns to Canada, it would also be beneficial to learn about laws governing commercial text messaging in Canada. The CASL legislation is arguably the most important of such laws.

CASL is almost similar to the US TCPA laws, with both centering around the need for client consent. The only difference is that CASL consent comes in two forms – implied and express. Implied consent applies when a consumer publicly publishes their info. Express consent, meanwhile, applies when the person explicitly agrees to receive your messages. Per CASL laws, explicit consent expires after two years while express consent only expires when the person withdraws consent.

🌟 Who Enforces the Laws?

Telemarketing laws and regulations are enforced by several bodies, both governmental and non-governmental. In the US, these bodies include;

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

  • The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA)

  • The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)

The FCC and FTC are federal agencies while CTIA and MMA are non-profit agencies. Aside from the four bodies, SMS - text marketing regulations are also enforced by mobile carries and SMS - text marketing services providers.

🔥 Penalties for Noncompliance

The FCC doesn’t award individual damages to spam recipients. Instead, the agency enforces compliance by issuing warnings and imposing stiff penalties on companies that break existing laws.

As it stands, noncompliant companies pay a $500 to $1,500 fine for every unsolicited message. It means that if you wrongfully send inappropriate messages to a few thousand recipients, you could end up paying millions in damages.

One of the most referenced examples of what could go wrong if you breach the text message marketing laws is Domino’s Pizza’s case of 2013. Domino’s Pizza was fined nearly $10 million just for sending promotional texts without prior consent. *

✅ The Compliance Checklist; What You Should Do

The three laws above (TCPA, CAN-Spam Act, and CASL) will tell you everything that’s required of marketers and advertisers who’d wish to use text messaging for commercial purposes. Basically;

  1. You need "Prior Express Written Consent" for new contacts

  2. You need "Prior Express Written Consent" for imported contacts

  3. The first text you send must be a compliance message that confirms opt-in

  4. Do not include content that involves illegal behavior or substances, violence, adult content such as nudity, profanity, or hate speech. You can’t text Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco in the text messages

  5. You must make known your identity, the purpose of the campaign, the intended message frequency, data rates, terms and conditions (T&Cs) of the campaign, and your privacy policy

  6. Disclose useful information and opt-out instructions

  7. Remind them who you are! Especially with your first text message to anyone. (If this is your first contact or if they didn’t save your number)

  8. Be respectful. This is their personal phone number. Treat this privilege with care

🌟 Can I send a text blast asking for people’s permission to send text messages?

No. You can not!🙅‍It’s important to understand compliance before you send a message. Prior express written consent from your contacts is mandatory. Your first text message to new contacts must be a compliance message.

♥️ Find Help, You'll Need It

As you can see, compliance can be a little tricky. Even the timing of messages can sometimes cause mixed reactions among recipients, potentially drawing the wrong attention. Working with a professional text message marketing company such as Pony Express HQ can help prevent complaints and unwanted legal issues.

Have questions? Visit our website today and we’ll be glad to assist.


The Pony Express HQ Team

✅ Next Related Resource: The Top 3 Ways How to Collect SMS - Text Message Campaign Opt-ins


Wikipedia - TCPA

tcpalaw.com TCPA

Wikipedia - CTIA

CTIA Messaging Principles and Best Practices