The wireless advertising industry's Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has released a six-point industry code of conduct for North American wireless marketing campaigns, hoping to stop a spam epidemic before it starts.

The global wireless marketing trade group said it developed the policies to protect what's generally seen as a fledgling medium that is extremely vulnerable to abuse -- especially in the U.S., where consumers are just beginning to understand mobile text messaging, or Short Messaging Service (SMS).

To avoid antagonizing consumers and blunting the effectiveness of the medium, the code stipulates that advertisers must allow people to "opt in" -- that is, specify to receive -- to each mobile marketing program separately. It also says every message sent must provide an easy "opt-out" mechanism, and consumers should be offered something of value in each wireless communication they receive.

The code gives a green light to companies hoping to collect demographic data for mobile campaigns, since "mobile messaging campaigns are most effective when appropriately targeted," the authors of the code wrote. Targeted communications are also less likely to annoy consumers.

In addition to imposing a code on its members, the MMA is considering a second step to protect the medium: the creation of a mobile campaign certification process to help advertisers and brands design campaigns that meet the code of conduct.

"The code of conduct is a tremendous first step toward aligning the industry behind an aggressive yet universal set of principles for mobile marketing that protects the consumer and the industry simultaneously," said Cristy Swink of Cingular Wireless, a member of the MMA's Privacy Advisory Committee (PAC), which developed the code.

The PAC also includes Carat Interactive, Procter & Gamble, PocketChoice, The Weather Channel and VeriSign. It was ratified by a majority of MMA board members.

U.S. and Asian mobile subscribers are more susceptible to mobile spam than are their counterparts in Europe, where senders pay a per-message fee. This "sender pays" model creates a significant cost for the marketer, but also greatly reduces the likelihood of a spam epidemic to match that which is now being perpetuated via the e-mail medium -- and which advertisers agree is hurting legitimate e-mail marketing's effectiveness.

So far, Asian markets are the only ones to have encountered mobile spam on a large scale. Faced with a growing wireless e-mail epidemic in Japan, DoCoMo last month implemented severe restrictions on the volume of mobile messages a given i-mode handset can send in a day. It's also taken additional technical measures to block suspicious mailings.

The effort to safeguard the mobile marketing channel comes as advertisers are increasingly adopting SMS. In October, mobile messaging player m-Qube operated a cross-carrier marketing program for Universal Domestic Television's "The 5th Wheel" -- one of the U.S.'s first campaigns supported across multiple networks. In the summer, it also ran mobile marketing programs in connection with blockbusters including Warner Bros.' "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

m-Qube rival Mobliss, meanwhile, is powering a mobile under-the-cap promotion for Coca-Cola's popular teen music and chat site, Cokemusic.com. The national promotion lets U.S. consumers enter cap codes using their mobile phones and accrue points, or "decibels," in registered accounts on Cokemusic.com. They can then visit Cokemusic.com to enter for chances to win prizes in exchange for the points. Coke has tried under-the-cap promotions in conjunction with Cokemusic.com before, but this is the first time it has integrated SMS with its music-focused Web destination for teens.

At the same time as players are increasing their efforts to safeguard the growing wireless advertising market, U.S. mobile carriers are also making it easier for wireless campaigns to get off the ground. Last month, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association's (CTIA) American carrier members launched common short code (CSC) capability -- which has been available for some time in Europe, where mobile marketing has proven a major success.

CSCs are five-digit numbers that can receive SMS messages, just like normal 10-digit phone numbers. But they're far more user-friendly -- they're easier to remember, and they're compatible across all participating carriers. (That is, customers of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless, for example, can send text messages to the same short code.)

As a result of the carriers' agreement, hurdles are removed enabling marketers and brand managers to better engage consumers via SMS -- and the new cooperation on short codes could provide a platform for simpler-to-deploy cross-carrier campaigns in the U.S.

Zachary Rodgers is senior editor of ChannelSeven and WirelessAdWatch. Christopher Saunders, managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com, contributed to this story.