🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

We’re used to spam calls and emails. How about spam texts?

Reema Khrais and Sarah Leeson Aug 1, 2023
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A positive of SMS marketing? Companies "probably aren't going to inundate you the same way that they will with emails because there's a cost factor to it," says Vox reporter Emily Stewart. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

We’re used to spam calls and emails. How about spam texts?

Reema Khrais and Sarah Leeson Aug 1, 2023
Heard on:
A positive of SMS marketing? Companies "probably aren't going to inundate you the same way that they will with emails because there's a cost factor to it," says Vox reporter Emily Stewart. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Let’s talk spam — and not the canned meat, but the kind in your inbox.

It’s one thing when unwanted marketing messages are emailed — and hopefully sent to a junk folder — but what do you do when they are texted to your phone number?

Emily Stewart, a senior correspondent with Vox, wrote about the uptick in marketing she’s been getting via text. She joined “Marketplace’s” Reema Khrais to compare notes, talk about solutions and speculate about the coming election season. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Reema Khrais: I love that you reported on this topic because I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a lot of text messages and have wondered if it’s just me. So if you were to open your phone’s texts right now and scroll, what would you see? Can you give us a sense of just how inundated you’ve been with these marketing texts?

Emily Stewart: I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I have one from a local beauty salon that I must have signed up for. I have another beauty one for the company that makes Botox. One at the hotel I’m currently staying in. And what is this even? Oh, a drink I got at the airport the other day. It’s really — it’s more than my friends.

Khrais: Right? And so those texts that you’re getting from Botox, the beauty salon — what are they telling you? Are they offering discounts or different things?

Stewart: So the Botox definitely is a discount. The beauty salon, honestly, is just a thing where they wanted to get my phone number for me to sign up to make an appointment. Presumably, at some point in the future, they’re gonna use that phone number to say, “Hey, do you want to come back again?” I didn’t actually wind up making that appointment. So the point is, I wind up in their marketing ecosystem and they have a new way to talk to me to get to me, that is my phone, which I am on all the time.

Khrais: Yeah, I mean, those texts do feel very similar to the kinds of texts I’ve been getting. Like, even last night, I bought some new plush towels that I’m very excited about. And then I immediately got a text from the company being like, “Hey, thanks. Stay tuned for text-only deals,” and I had this moment where I was like, “Wait, did I even give them my number?” And so, based on your reporting, can you give us a sense of why these are so much more effective? You know, obviously, we’re checking our phones more, but I think you had some stats in there that were pretty interesting.

Stewart: Yeah, I mean, really, the long and short of it is that text message open rates are astronomically high, like a 97% read rate within 15 minutes of being delivered. If you look at other estimates for emails, it’s like 20%, which, who knows [if it’s] even that. What companies will tell you is that it’s also a way to kind of have a conversation with the recipients. I talked to one person who said they were on a website thinking about buying a bag, were unsure, left the website, and apparently her information was already on the website, so got a follow-up text: “Hey, do you have more questions about this?” And she actually did. She wanted to know what the material was. Then she bought the bag. So companies say this is a way to kind of interact with people. It’s also more expensive for them to text you than it is to email you. So maybe a plus side of this is that they probably aren’t going to inundate you the same way that they will with emails because there’s a cost factor to it.

Khrais: Well, let’s talk about the privacy concerns here. Obviously, a lot of our personal data is already all over the internet. But what does it mean that companies now have yet another piece of our information?

Stewart: Part of this is just, you know, companies have so much of our information, they constantly lose it, right? We’re constantly hearing about data breaches. Here is yet another thing that’s going to be in a data breach now. Is it as serious as your Social Security number? No, but it’s not ideal. You know, I think the good news on SMS stuff is that most of the time you can text “stop” if you want it to stop.

Khrais: I’ve texted that several times.

Stewart: Yeah, and that tends to work. It is a little bit of a game of whack-a-mole, but I think that is a little bit easier to control than your emails. It’s just like, what are you going to do at this point?

Khrais: Yeah. So based on your reporting, what might we expect in the future when it comes to text messages for marketers?

Stewart: Yeah, this is where I actually felt really bad in the reporting, because I’m not that bothered by the marketing text messages. But I was talking to someone at a company called Robokiller and he said, “Well, you recognize what the next 18 months are going to be?” I was like, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, it’s going to be the holidays, so the brands are going to start texting us more. Also, election season is coming up.” And I don’t know about you, but I get a ton of political texts. And I can’t stop them. I can’t stop them. It’s impossible. And he said, “Your phone’s gonna be a little bit rough for a while.”

Khrais: Well, here’s to hoping that the next text we get is from a friend inviting us to a dinner party, and not from a politician or a company asking if we want 15% off.

Stewart: Absolutely.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.