SMS Marketing Regulations and TCPA Text Message Rules

SMS marketing is the best channel for companies communicating directly with consumers. Ensure compliance by knowing these regulations.

SMS (and MMS) marketing has become a preferred channel for B2C companies seeking direct communication with consumers. However, like every form of communication, it's not devoid of regulations. Knowing these text marketing regulations will help you stay compliant.

The following rules and regulations apply to companies sending SMS or MMS messages in the United States. Other countries have their own regulations regarding SMS marketing and opt-outs. For example, Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has specific requirements for obtaining consent and including opt-out mechanisms in messages.

smart phone with text messages

Text Message Compliance, TCPA and FCC Regulations, and Consent

Adhering to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is crucial for SMS and MMS marketing in the U.S. and Canada. The TCPA, enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), mandates various restrictions and guidelines to protect consumers from unsolicited telemarketing efforts. TCPA SMS compliance laws protect consumers from fraudulent and predatory businesses, but they also protect

Consent and Unsolicited Text Message Laws

At the heart of the TCPA lies the principle of "express written consent." Before sending any promotional or marketing text messages, businesses must have written consent from consumers. Marketers must explicitly obtain consent; the assumption of consent is not enough.

A simple purchase from a consumer doesn't grant the business permission to send marketing messages.

SMS Opt-In and SMS Opt-Out

The Importance of Opt-Ins in SMS Marketing

At the heart of ethical and compliant SMS marketing lies the principle of opt-in. Opting in means that a consumer has given explicit permission (consent) to a business to send them text messages.

Why Opt-In Matters

The opt-in process is not just a best practice; it's a legal requirement. By obtaining clear consent, businesses protect themselves legally and show respect for their consumers' preferences.

How to Secure Opt-Ins

The most common opt-in methods are web forms, checkout options, or via an opt-in text prompt.

It's crucial to explain precisely what the consumer is signing up for with a clear opt-in message. If you're planning to send promotional offers, make that clear.

Double opt-in is the safest method to obtain clear consent. After the initial opt-in, the consumer receives a message asking them to confirm their subscription. It's an added layer ensuring the consumer genuinely wants to receive texts.

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The Importance of Opt-Out

SMS unsubscribe laws and opt-out language ensure that businesses respect the preferences and rights of consumers.

Ignoring opt-out regulations in SMS marketing can lead to harsh consequences with the law and your reputation.

To comply with opt-out regulations:

Provide a clear and easy opt-out process. Every promotional or marketing SMS message must contain clear instructions on opt-out. This ensures that the consumer can easily choose to stop receiving messages.

Use commonly understood opt-out language. Commonly accepted phrases for opting out include "STOP," "UNSUBSCRIBE," or "END." Once a user sends one of these commands to the sender, the business must stop sending promotional messages to that number.

Comply immediately with user requests. Once a user opts out, the business must immediately stop sending promotional texts. You can send a final confirmation message confirming they won't receive any further messages.

The law requires you to maintain an opt-out list, often called a "Do Not Text" list. When users opt out of text messages, add their number to this list to prevent future texts.

FCC Text Message Regulations

Apart from the TCPA, the FCC has its own guidelines regarding text message marketing. They oversee consent compliance and address the content of the messages, ensuring they aren't misleading or harmful. For instance, messages promoting prohibited products or services, like certain drugs or high-risk financial services, can lead to penalties.

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Penalties for Non-Compliance

Failing to respect opt-out requests or not including clear opt-out instructions can result in hefty fines under the TCPA. They can also damage the reputation of your business.

Legal Consequences

The Federal Communications Commission can levy substantial fines on companies that violate opt-out regulations. Under the TCPA, for example, statutory damages can range from $500 to $1,500 for each unsolicited message.

Non-compliance can expose businesses to class-action lawsuits. These can result in significant financial penalties, entail legal fees, and drain organizational resources.

In severe cases, you can lose your operating license, effectively shutting you down.

Business Consequences

Over time, ignoring opt-outs can lead to decreased customer engagement.

High-profile violations can attract media attention, casting the company in a negative light. This can deter potential customers and partners.

The costs of handling complaints, managing negative publicity, and lawsuits can divert resources from other critical areas.

Messaging uninterested parties is not just bad practice; it's also a waste of effort. Ignoring opt-outs wastes valuable resources by marketing to unqualified leads.

Navigating Carrier Restrictions: Beyond federal regulations, awareness of specific carrier restrictions is crucial. Carriers may have rules and filters which could affect message deliverability. While these aren't legal requirements, they can impact the success of your campaigns.

A2P 10DLC: What it is and Why it's Crucial for Your Business

The sales world is always evolving, with new protocols and systems designed to enhance communication, reduce spam, and improve deliverability. One such evolution is the introduction of A2P 10DLC in the U.S.

Fortunately, A2P 10DLC isn't just good for consumer privacy; it's also good for businesses.


A2P stands for "Application-to-Person" - messages sent to a prospect's phone from a software application. This is the most common method businesses use to send messages like alerts, notifications, and promotional content.

10DLC stands for "10-digit long code" - a standard phone number format but used specifically for business messaging.

A2P 10DLC enables businesses to send application-driven, high-volume SMS and MMS messages using a 10-digit phone number.

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Why A2P 10DLC was Introduced

A shortcode is a special telephone number designed for high-throughput, two-way messaging. They are shorter (usually five to six digits) than their A2P 10DLC counterparts.

Carriers introduced A2P 10DLC to merge the efficiency of shortcodes with the familiarity of regular numbers. A2P 10DLC reduces spam and increases message delivery by vetting the message source. They are also a more affordable solution for businesses relative to expensive shortcodes.

How A2P 10DLC Helps Businesses

10DLC numbers can handle more messages than regular long codes, making them ideal for businesses with a large text volume.

Since 10DLCs look like regular phone numbers, they offer a local and personal touch. This can lead to a higher engagement rate as customers often feel more comfortable engaging with a local number.

Businesses can choose a specific 10DLC number that aligns with their brand, enhancing brand recognition and trust.

With stricter regulations for business messaging, using an approved system like A2P 10DLC ensures compliance, reducing the risk of penalties.

A2P 10DLC Registration

The registration process for A2P 10DLC differs between carriers, but a general overview of the process is as follows:

  • Business Verification: Before using A2P 10DLC, businesses must establish their identity. This usually involves providing details about the company, such as its legal name, industry type, website, and other relevant information.
  • Campaign Registration: After brand verification, you must register your messaging campaign. This involves describing the nature of the messages you'll send (e.g., alerts, promotions, notifications), expected volume, and verifying opt-in compliance.
  • Choose and Register a 10DLC Number: After verifying the brand and campaign, select and register a 10-DLC number for messaging. Some businesses choose mnemonic numbers or otherwise related to their brand for easy recall.
  • Carrier Approval: After registration, carriers must approve the use of the A2P 10DLC. Each carrier will have slightly different requirements. Generally, they'll check to ensure that your intended use aligns with their guidelines for A2P messaging.

Once approved, test the 10DLC with a small group to ensure messages are sent and received as intended.

Note that this is a general overview. The exact steps and requirements differ based on the platform you are using. Always consult with your service provider or platform's documentation for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Prohibited Text Message Categories

High-risk Financial Services

Payday loans, crypto-currencies, high-risk financial services, and promotions related to third-party financial services, such as third-party loans.

Debt Collection or Forgiveness

The line between direct communication about debt and third-party debt collection is thin but crucial. Hospitals can text patients about their bills (with their consent), but third-party debt collectors can't leverage SMS for debt collection.

“Get Rich Quick” Schemes

Pyramid schemes, deceptive work-from-home programs, and other such messages are strictly off-limits. It's essential to distinguish between legitimate employment outreach and these schemes.

Illegal Substances/Articles

Though some states have legalized recreational cannabis use, it remains federally illegal in the US. Consequently, cannabis businesses cannot use SMS/MMS for promotions. Additionally, while CBD might be federally legal, state restrictions vary, causing US carriers to refrain from related messaging. Similarly, fireworks have restrictions concerning their promotion.

Prescription Drugs

Restrictions apply to any offer for prescription drugs in the US/Canada.


The US and Canada both prohibit gambling promotion via SMS. This includes casino apps, gambling sites, and other forms of gambling.

"S.H.A.F.T." Use Cases

An acronym that stands for Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco. While there are some nuances, promotions related to these areas, especially firearms and vaping, face heavy restrictions.

Additional Resources

For a comprehensive collection of guidelines, FAQs, and other resources on SMS/MMS marketing regulations, consider these sources:

  • FCC's Text Messages and Telemarketing
  • CTIA's Messaging Principles and Best Practices
  • Websites like Stack Exchange, Quora, and Reddit often have discussions on the latest in SMS/MMS marketing regulations. Though not official, they can provide insights and real-world experiences from other marketers.
  • Lastly, consult with legal counsel specializing in telecommunications or direct marketing to ensure your campaigns adhere to the latest regulations.

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