Can’t Beat the Reamingby Brendon Bosworth / 02.07.2009
A solid fisting always hurts more when the victim assists in their own violation. Such is the case with a mob of disenchanted MTN subscribers, who’ve been airing their grievances over the MTN15 Competition, through the local newspapers.
A giant mobile corporation hits its mid-teens. It hosts an sms-based, ‘general knowledge’ quiz, dripping with prizes, to allow its loyal subscribers (read hapless gimps who, like all South African cellphone users, are paying some of the highest tariffs in the world) to share in the celebrations. As Serame Taukobong, (toke-a-bong, what? – ed) chief marketing officer of MTN South Africa, stirringly put it in a press release: “MTN is celebrating 15 years of success as a leading mobile operator in South Africa, and what better way to celebrate than with the people who got us here, our loyal customers.” Hard not to be loyal when you’re locked into a two-year contract.
With the chance to win an HP notebook each day, the possibility of claiming a Toyota Fortuner at the end of each week, or ultimately triumphing with a house bond from FNB worth one million sheckles, who wouldn’t be foaming at the mouth? Those smart enough to realize that R7.50 for an sms is a shameless affront, that’s who. Not just a one-off, over-priced sms, no sir. Once the snappy contestant (so challenging to pick the correct answer from a two-option multiple choice set) gets the first answer right, they are sent a further question, which they duly answer. Another R7.50 evaporates. Another question. The more you sms with the right answer the more points you accrue, and so it goes. A moebus strip, an insatiable cash-devouring void.
Ever the philanthropists, MTN capped the number of sms’s per contestant at 500 per day. That’s R3750 bucks. And exactly what type of person has the time or thumb strength to blast off 500 texts every 24 hours? The average drone who opens his eyes at six in the morn and hits the shut down button at midnight operates for 18 waking hours, which means 27.8 sms’s each hour, almost one every two minutes. The target contestant doesn’t work or interact with humans? Or, he stays up late at night caressing those keys, thumbprint melting against the friction of the touchpad?
The recession has kicked most of us straight in the teeth, but it hasn’t stopped one irate entrant from allegedly spending R15 000 in just a week. At least we can take solace in the idea that he must have been very comfortable tapping away, in between gargling with Moet Chandon and nibbling on perlemoen sushi, whilst ensconced in the Table Mountain suite at Sol’s One and Only. Who the hell are these people, anyway? If they’re that lackadaisical with their cash, maybe they deserve to get fleeced?
It’s more the everyday man I’m worried about. The guy for whom R7.50 would be better spent on a loaf of bread or litre of petrol. I can’t see why he’d buy into this shit. Games of chance bring out the worst in people: greed, one-upmanship and those strands of addiction that bristle below the surface. Without self-restraint, it’s easy to get lost in the possibility of winning. Just another sms, another coin in the slot machine. ‘Honey, kiss the kids goodnight for me, I’ve got to choose between A or B. I can feel it in my bones; tonight is my lucky night.’ But it appears that this money-sucking flimflam has nothing to do with chance. He who spends the most, wins. Contenders can enquire about their ranking by dialing 173. Spend more cash, climb the rankings, increase your odds.
According to Business Report, the National Lotteries Board (NLB) is currently investigating the legality of the competition. The Pretoria News reports that MTN will appoint a review panel of external experts, including a consumer representative, to review the recent allegations [it’s alleged that some of the winners knew the rankings of other players and knew exactly how many sms’s they needed to send to win] and the promotion. While that’s all going on, the current event leader might start questioning who’s going to bankroll his or her dream home, since FNB has reportedly cancelled their sponsorship promise. Maybe a nice shack for Mr Ponzi instead?
The financial perverts at MTN who engineered this deserve to be tied naked to a pole and lashed with a sjambok, but they’re not the only ones. Last year the NLB questioned Vodacom’s ‘100 cars in 100 days competition’, which rushed entrants R10 per ‘yebo’ sms for the chance to win a swish Beamer 320i. The NLB deemed this little ruse an illegal lottery, chiefly because the cost of an entry sms far exceeded the price of a regular sms. When it comes to the law, Section 54 of the Lotteries Act comes into play. If it’s a promotional competition, as most of these things are touted, the cost of the goods purchased or services utilized in the competition must not exceed the usual price. R10? Not the ordinary price for an sms, not even a long-distance text to Tehran. In SA, only the Lotto and raffles conducted by non-profit organizations qualify as legal lotteries and, as far as the NLB was concerned, Vodacom was in effect operating an illegal lottery. The case didn’t go to court, but Vodacom did pull the plug on the competition after 88 vehicles had been won, finishing up with an early mass draw of the remaining 12 cabs.
According to the WASPA (Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association) code of conduct, service providers are required to get customers’ consent in order to continue charging them, if they spend more than R200 in a month on any service. Furthermore, they have to notify the customer when the monthly bill hits R400 and for every multiple of R200 after that. [Check the WASPA code of conduct here]. There are defence mechanisms in place, but this doesn’t stop the bombardment. Late-night television, anytime radio – clogged with sms scams, cons and lock-ins with tiny fine print, briefly flashed onscreen. Few people even realise that they’re buying into a regular weekly debit when they fire off that one sms for a “hot flirt picture”, ringtone or silly app on their phones. We can be as pissed off as we please that we’re swamped with this tripe. But people, you and me pal, need to be more responsible. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is now trying to crawl their way out of an sms-induced mine shaft, especially when they’ve consented to being charged. We have to be more switched on. Don’t enter the damn things. Tune-out. Ignore the flashing lights, hollow promises and read the fine print. Don’t pay for those inane ringtones and wallpapers. We don’t have to feed the piggish corporations anymore than they already mine from our pockets. Last month, MTN signed its 100 millionth subscriber. This means that one in five people in MTN’s 21 markets in Africa and the Middle East is an MTN subscriber. They already own a fat piece of that double-crusted, bacon-filled pie. In SA, we get absolutely punished by the cellular networks, especially the poor on pay-when-you-can. The Rands we give them should be handed over grudgingly and guardedly, not pissed against the wall. And considering how much we already spend with our cellular service providers, the least they could do is not try to knife us at every turn.