SMS Compliance Guide

Promotion Requirements


A key ingredient for text marketing success is promotion. We’ll keep saying it— if nobody knows your text marketing program exists, nobody will subscribe! Half the battle is sharing with current and prospective customers the news that they can text with your organization.

However, there are a few general rules surrounding exactly how you should phrase your promotional material. So yes, more rules…but before you roll your eyes keep in mind that these language guidelines are actually there to help you!

Text message marketing is still a relatively new concept to many, and customer misunderstandings can lead to some unfair criticism. Think of the following provisions as tools to ensure you give your customers a clear depiction of what you’re offering them.

Necessary Verbiage

You can choose to advertise your text marketing program on a social media post, pamphlet, heck even a billboard! You just need to do the following:

State Your Purpose

Always include a reference explaining that by texting in a keyword or sharing their number, they are in fact joining an SMS marketing list and that the messages they will receive are (a) marketing/promotional, (b) sent via an autodialer and (c) the agreement to receive the autodialed promotional text message isn’t a condition of any purchase. This is particularly important if you’re offering something in exchange for their subscription. Doing this will help you avoid people who opt in for the reward and opt right out after receiving a text from you.

✔️ Good: Join Belmont’s VIP Text Club and receive 50% off the first wash of your choice. Text ShineOn to 617-098-6652 and join now! By texting VIP, you agree to receive promotional messages sent via an autodialer, and this agreement isn’t a condition of any purchase.

🚫 Bad: Text ShineOn to 617-098-6652 and get 50% off the first wash of your choice.

State Your Value

In order to be memorable you want your message to be short, but not so short it leaves folks scratching their head as to what exactly they’re getting out of sharing their number with you. You want to ensure you give at least some insight into the purpose of your texts; whether it’s for coupons, flash sales, important updates, or something else!

✔️ Good: Text SOCKS to 212-949-0002 for monthly deals and coupons from Silly Socks. By texting SOCKS, you agree to receive promotional messages sent via an autodialer, and this agreement isn’t a condition of any purchase.

🚫 Bad: Text SOCKS to 212-949-0002 now!!!!

As a general rule of thumb remember to ABC: always be clear! If you’re delivering added value to customers through text, there’s no need to trick them into subscribing! Simply let them know the facts and attract people through honesty.

Approved Abbreviations

As with any industry, the world of texting and text marketing is rich with jargon and abbreviations. And when you’re up against a tight character limit, the temptation to shorten your words is real.

In an effort to help you avoid confusion or misdirection with any of your compliance messaging, the CTIA developed a list of approved abbreviations you can use in your text marketing that will help you save space without sacrificing clarity.

Approved CTIA abbreviations include:

  • Msg instead of Message
  • / instead of Per
  • Txt instead of Text
  • mo, ea. mo. or /mth instead of Per Month
  • Msg&Data Rates May Apply instead of Message and Data Rates May Apply

Here’s an example of call-to-action that uses all the CTIA-approved abbreviations:

Terms & Conditions

Everyone reading this totally reads through the terms and agreement (T&A) documentation before checking the “I agree” box…right? We didn’t think so, and neither does the CTIA. That’s why they allow you to slightly abbreviate your terms and conditions when advertising into a shortened summary linking out to the full version.

The TCPA also requires that the terms of the written agreement be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, so the TCPA consent language should always be in readable font and type and close to where they provide their phone number and their “signature” (whether that is via checkbox, initialing, clicking an “Agree” button or any other form of compliant consent).

If you choose to abbreviate, know that there are a few requirements:

  • The abbreviation must be clearly visible below your CTA (call to action)
  • The first three lines of your abbreviation have to appear above the fold on a 1024×768 resolution computer screen.
  • If you’re utilizing a checkbox to indicate agreement, it CANNOT be pre-checked.
  • Your abbreviated terms must be accessible using the primary browser scroll bar. No hiding!
  • In addition, there cannot be any pop-ups, banners, or nested scroll boxes blocking the terms and conditions.
  • Text must maintain a color contrast value of 125 against all points of the background. A fancy way of saying you can’t turn it into the same color as your background (like a sneaky high schooler trying to boost the word count on an essay).
  • Finally, if you’re advertising your text marketing program on television or web, the ads must be static when you get to the T&C.

When it comes to writing out your full terms and conditions document, the CTIA has some requirements as well. We’ve listed them out for you below. The bolded items are required to appear in your abbreviated version.

  • Page Title
  • Business Name
  • Program Name
  • Shortcode Usage Disclosure
  • Opt-In Instructions
  • STOP Instructions
  • HELP Instructions
  • Toll-Free Number or Email
  • Supported Wireless Carriers
  • Frequency
  • T&C/Privacy Policy Link
  • Privacy Policy
  • Message and Data Rates May Apply

Privacy Policy

In both your full and abbreviated terms & conditions documents, you’ll notice that a privacy policy (or link to it) is required. Think of your privacy policy as a tool for customer peace of mind.

In a world of data breaches and confidentiality leaks, it’s a huge leap in trust for customers to voluntarily share personal information with your business. Return the favor by spelling out for them exactly what you intend to do with the numbers you collect, who they’ll be shared with, how they’ll be stored, and any other relevant information.

Providing a detailed privacy policy is a CTIA requirement.

Other Requirements

Outside of the privacy policy and your T&A, there are a few other CTIA required provisos on promotion:

  • Avoid the word free. You’re playing with fire by including it considering different data plans for different people may result in overage fees etc. It’s best to just steer clear of the word entirely.
  • If you’re offering an incentive for opting-in (like a discount) keep it simple, and follow through. Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver on. And don’t give customers any extra hoops to jump through that weren’t clearly stated in the promotion.
  • Do not share, endorse, demonstrate or depict violence or illegal behavior of any kind including illegal or illicit drugs. You cannot share “adult content” as defined by the CTIA here. And of course, no profanity or hate speech.

But what about if you’re not sending marketing messages? Then you’d have nothing to “promote” right? Good question! Yes, sometimes texts are used to send things like password reset links, and appointment reminders. Let’s talk about this in our next section—transactional vs. promotional texts.

💡 Key Takeaways:

  • ABC: Always be clear. Don’t be vague or sneaky. Clearly state what you’re offering and then deliver exactly that.
  • Ensure that the disclosure of the terms and conditions are clearly and conspicuously displayed.
  • The CTIA allows you to abbreviate your terms and conditions.
  • Including a link to a privacy policy is a CTIA requirement.
  • Avoid the word “free.”

Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.


Up Next: