Verizon Flip-Flop on Pro-Choice Text Ad May Portend Future Disputes

A short-lived short code skirmish appears to be over. Naral Pro-Choice America’s brief cry to supporters to “Tell Verizon to let pro-choicers text!” came in response to the mobile carrier’s initial refusal to carry Naral’s cell phone text alerts. Naral has quieted its activist ranks after Verizon said it has reversed its decision and will carry Naral messages over its network.

Naral confirmed this afternoon it has received notification that its short code has been accepted by Verizon. Naral sent a letter to Verizon indicating its displeasure with the original decision on September 25 to block its text alerts.

Other major mobile carriers have already agreed to serve Naral’s text messages, according to a New York Times report.

Verizon Spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson assured ClickZ News the company will “definitely” be sending Naral’s text messages. However, a statement he issued to the press earlier this morning did not indicate that specifically. “The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident,” noted the statement.

Nelson would not explain who made the decision not to deliver the messages. His e-mailed press statement pointed to an obsolete policy as the culprit. “That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.”

Nelson went on to tell ClickZ, “It’s a matter of an old chestnut of a policy not reflecting reality. We’re going to fix it going forward. We’ll correct the disconnect.”

Brian Reich, director of new media at branding and consulting firm Cone, said mobile carriers are “slow in my mind in understanding how political-type people are using their cellphones for advocacy.”

Reich has experience developing emerging media campaigns for nonprofits and advocacy groups. Although he is not aware of similar instances in which messages from political or advocacy groups have been blocked by mobile carriers, he likened the Naral/Verizon dispute to one involving another nonprofit organization he’s worked with. When the animal rights group launched ads featuring video of a seal pup being clubbed, one highly-trafficked news Web site refused to run the ads because its standards and practices committee disapproved.

There is a “fundamental lack of understanding of what political and advocacy organizations are looking to do in text messaging,” said Reich. For one, mobile ad salespeople are more accustomed to selling rarely-controversial programs to promote movies, TV shows or commercial goods.

Although they may be courting deep-pocketed political candidates, carriers may fear potential uproar over more controversial campaigns. For instance, when groups like Naral launch ad campaigns to promote pro-choice issues, a reactionary effort by a pro-life organization against companies affiliated with the campaign — in this case Verizon — could be close behind.

“You’re going to see similar hiccups for a while if politics can prove that it will be a regular customer,” said Reich, who added some of those glitches could be alleviated if carriers or third party vendors hire salespeople with more experience dealing with political and advocacy clients. “The mobile companies….will adapt.”

Related reading