In the past month, I have received 17 text messages from machines. Some were from mobile services providers, telling me that I'm in another country (I know!), and giving details of local roaming services, which does – admittedly – come in handy.
Others, however, were less useful. HSBC keeps sending me offers of discounts at shops I've never heard of; I'm extremely unlikely to want "tickets to Mickey's Magic Show" unless there's a free bar; and as for a "toning package for up to 5kg loss, inch loss & anti aging" – well, you tell me. Some of this I can trace back to companies to which I've given my mobile number; the text message saying I've "won £182,000 on the ongoing NOKIA PROMO DRAW" is, of course, plain old spam – and probably a scam, too.
This is an issue that was raised at the Mecom event last week. The region is hit by a plague of spam text messages – and things are especially bad in the UAE.
Timo Ahomaki of Airwide Solutions – which provides the infrastructure for mobile services – acknowledges that spam could negatively impact the consumer's view of the medium.
"I get the impression that the problem is worse [in the UAE] than it is elsewhere in the world," he told me. "It's very easy to ruin mobile as a marketing channel through spam. If you ever want to make mobile advertising a business, operators need to take action."
As Ahomaki points out, mobile advertising is potentially a very lucrative market, although one that hasn't hit the mainstream yet. It allows true "niche" marketing: although it's relatively costly to send text and multimedia messages, you need to send fewer of them to reach your audience.
Mobile advertising could be especially useful in the UAE, given its transient workforce and lack of proper address system for direct mail marketing. With a more accurate profile of users, it could really take off.
However, certain things have to happen first. Filtering systems need to be installed to prevent spam, along with tighter enforcement to ensure that action is taken against offenders. Companies that have been given permission to send mobile marketing – such as HSBC – should direct their marketing more carefully. And lastly, there should be transparency behind the process so that consumers can opt in and out of services.
With this in place, we could expect more messages about things we like – and fewer, perhaps, about magic shows.