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Parklife Festival fined £70,000 over Mum text

By | Published on Friday 5 December 2014

Parklife Weekender

Organisers of Manchester’s Parklife festival have been fined £70,000 after they sent out a promotional text message ahead of this year’s event which was set to appear on the recipient’s phone as if it had come from ‘Mum’.

Promoting a series of post-festival club nights, the text read: “Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold out. If your going, make sure your home for breakfast! xxx” There was then a link to a web-page listing the after parties.

Now for starters, you might object to the event’s suggestion that your Mum doesn’t know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. But such pedantry is pretty inconsequential when you consider the impact the Mum text might have had on recipients who had lost their mothers.

Like nineteen year old Ros Prior, whose mother had died of multiple sclerosis three years earlier. She is quoted by the BBC as explaining: “My phone went off and I clicked to read it. It said, ‘new message from Mum’ and my heart stopped. Even though it was only two seconds of sheer panic, it was horrible because I just saw ‘Mum’. You just think, ‘Oh my god, is she still alive?’ I started crying. And then I read the text and realised it was Parklife”.

When people started to complain about the promotional SMS, both directly and on the social networks, Parklife organisers initially responded in a flippant matter, tweeting – according to the BBC – “So this is what it feels like to be a jar of Marmite #LoveItOrHateIt”.

Though, on subsequently realising the substance of complaints from people like Prior, the festival’s promoters changed their tune, admitting to media that their text campaign may have caused “unnecessary personal distress” to some recipients and adding that they would like to “apologise to them directly”. They later added: “The communication was intended as a fun way of engaging festival-goers. However, the festival acknowledges that this was not an appropriate theme for everyone”.

Following a number of complaints, the promotion was subsequently investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office which oversees data protection issues. And it has now fined the festival on the grounds that the tweet breached data rules because the identity of the actual sender was “disguised or concealed”.

Head Of ICO Enforcement Steve Eckersley told the BBC: “This was a poorly thought out piece of marketing that didn’t appear to even try to follow the rules or consider the impact that their actions would have on the privacy of individuals”.

Of course, the Parklife festival didn’t set out to hurt anyone’s feelings with its Mum promotion, which probably did seem like a “fun way of engaging festival-goers” at the time. Though the incident – costly in terms of the both the fine and consumer anger – will presumably make marketeers using text messaging as a promotional channel a little more wary of both data laws and how recipients may respond to their messages.