FYI TXT is GR8

If the be-all-and-end-all of marketing is putting brands into pockets and purses that go everywhere consumers go, then cellphones and other wireless devices are potentially the most lucrative marketing touchpoint ever.

If the be-all-and-end-all of marketing is putting brands into pockets and purses that go everywhere consumers go, then cellphones and other wireless devices are potentially the most lucrative marketing touchpoint ever.

What’s really driving marketers into a tizzy is that communicating wirelessly can produce the ultimate immersive experience by engaging consumers in voluntary two-way communication. That makes mobile marketing arguably the ideal way to increase a brand’s customer base, strengthen existing customer relationships and skew younger for the foreseeable future.

Among the supremely desirable youth demographic alone, 83% of North American 18- and 19-year-olds already routinely text message at least once a day, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

TM or SMS (short message service) was made easy for Canadians by becoming carrier-agnostic about a year and a half ago. But the real floodgates will burst open later this year, says Gary Schwartz, president of Toronto’s Impact Mobile, when a cross-carrier gateway for downloading not just text but content – video, games, MP3 music, photos and Internet – becomes effective.

Currently, most of the marketing programs here are TM-based youth initiatives and the results are proving that critical mass can be achieved in this sector. Philishave hooked up with Toronto’s The Edge 102.1 and Y108 and FM96, in Hamilton and London, Ont., respectively, last month for a typical TM promotion. Contestants text-messaged ‘cool skin’ to the stations to qualify for a prize package including Philishave’s new electric razor.

Wayne Hatton, business development director at the Toronto office of MyThum Interactive, which is headquartered in San Francisco, says the program ‘was Philishave’s first Canadian mobile marketing effort.

‘Philishave’s motivation was to not just build awareness for the brand, but to get to the younger demographic [by saying] this is a cool product,’ says Hatton.

Programs can also thrive without broadcast support. Miller Genuine Draft beer turned to TM to develop deeper connections with

19-24s via a place-based effort. My Thum created ‘MGD Best Seats in the House’ for the brand, a contest that is advertised via messages that appear on the Jumbotron at every game played this season by the Toronto Raptors basketball team. The messages urge fans to TM ‘SEATS’ for a chance to win tickets to future games.

‘We think it’s quite effective and a nice way to interact with consumers,’ says Miller’s Toronto-based marketing manager Travis Johnson. ‘It’s not just speaking to them – they have to do something, so it becomes a two-way interaction.’

During the 2003-04 season, Miller had partnered with Bell Mobility, but since then the initiative has been broadened to include all the carriers.

The brewer is pleased with the response that is ‘two to three times what it was last year on a per-game basis.’

Johnson says the Air Canada Centre is an ideal setting for a TM campaign. ‘It makes sense because you have to inform the consumer in some way how to use the technology. Within that arena, we use the Jumbotron and a live announcer to do this. But in other settings, it can be a little difficult because you would have to include instructions on a poster or a TV spot.’

Which brings up a good point: Some marketers are still uncertain about the most effective way to use the mobile medium. For them, hooking up with an established youth property may be an answer. Enter CHUM’s new MuchMusic phone, which rolled out in November. Created in partnership with Rogers Wireless, the MuchPhone ‘gives [CHUM] a new distribution platform,’ says Toronto-based Roma Khanna, VP of CHUM Interactive.

‘We can now reach right into your pocket or purse and bring you the latest and greatest of what’s happening with your favourite artists and shows,’ she notes. ‘We can send you images, wallpaper, ring tones – or let you create them yourself with our MuchMixFactory – games, rock ‘n’ roll horoscopes and even actual 30- or

60-second video programs [prepared] specifically for viewing on mobile phones.’

Khanna says that now that the MuchPhone has been successfully launched – pre-Christmas sales ‘surpassed our expectations and hundreds of thousands of ring tones have been downloaded to date’ – CHUM is looking for advertisers and content sponsors to come on board. One simple way marketers can get involved, she says, is through mobile couponing (or m-coupons for those in the know).

‘[Consumers] can walk into a local coffee or apparel shop and show their phone with the text message offering a special discount,’ she explains, adding that CHUM recently unveiled a new version of its ‘ring tone store,’ which will offer even more couponing opportunities. For instance, ‘Hershey’s or GM could offer a free ring tone and the coupon [for it could be] sent to a MuchPhone.’

Nokia also has a solution for cautious marketers – its new 6820 opens up to a full QWERTY keyboard which makes the whole process of sending text messages easier for consumers. ‘It’s optimized to be Nokia’s [primary] messaging device,’ says Grace Belmonte, director of marketing for Ajax, Ont.-based Nokia Canada. ‘It can really deliver on that text messaging promise.’

The cellphone manufacturer showcased the capabilities of the 6820 through a partnership with some 70 Famous Players theatres between late November and early January. Via a TM event called ‘Titans of Text,’ participants were challenged to text message a famous movie line to a specific mobile device faster than a Nokia representative could do so, with prizes ranging from T-shirts and $50 discount coupons on phones to 10 top-of-the-line Nokia phones.

‘We had 90 event days over a very short period of time and we [found] people were very willing to take the challenge,’ says Belmonte. ‘There’s a big ‘wow’ factor when you open up the handset and see the QWERTY keyboard. So the Nokia team members shared that with consumers who then did the challenge. People got to see how easy it is to do something like that on the 6820.’

However, even as consumers become increasingly educated about text messaging – and as a result more marketers get excited about the medium’s potential – there’s one thing that is essential to the success of any campaign, says Khanna.

‘Be resolutely audience-centric [by] concentrating on the people at the end of the value chain. If they aren’t excited about opting into whatever you’re providing, nothing else matters.’

GIST BOX

* More than a billion text messages are believed to be zooming around the world every day

* 54% of Canadian homes now have cellphones; by year’s end, it’s estimated that more than half of all Canadian individuals will have them

* Canadians send more than one million text messages per day

* North American mobile content, already pegged as a US$1.4 billion industry, is projected to rise from roughly 50% to 80% by 2008

* Global sales of ring tones last year amounted to US$3 billion

* American marketers are expected to devote US$5 billion to the mobile medium this year, up from

US$1 billion last year

Small screen meets silver screen

The film and music industries appear to be leaders when it comes to mobile marketing, and many of their programs are being dreamed up and/or enabled by Canadian companies such as Montreal’s Airborne Entertainment.

‘We do everything for Fox Films right now,’ says company president Andy Nulman. His most recent Fox project was the holiday film, Fat Albert. A ring tone of the title character, saying ‘Hey, hey, hey, pick up the phone, it’s Fat Albert,’ as well as wallpaper depicting, among other items, Albert’s big belly, were created.

‘The kids love this kind of thing because there’s an ‘insider’ element to it. Showing their affinity to a film or a character makes them look cool to their friends,’ Nulman explains. ‘And it’s that aspect that turns this medium into viral campaigns that are much more dynamic than those on the Internet’ because of the mobility of cellphones.

Toronto-based Mobile Impact is another Canadian company that’s creating mobile promotions for movies. To serve the latter, president Gary Schwartz nabbed the cellphone portal ‘FILMS’ to promote movies via text messages and content downloads.

‘We’re educating consumers that if they want stuff from films, they just need to text that word, plus the movie title as the keyword,’ says Schwartz. ‘It’s a great viral campaign because kids basically become brand ambassadors.’

The portal was first tried out with TVA’s holiday release White Noise. Schwartz says 5,000 text messages were generated the first week, which tripled the following week. ‘We expect to have roughly 100,000 messages traverse the FILMS short code by the end of the program due to the viral aspect.’

Another example of Mobile Impact’s inventive work is a promotion that began last month on behalf of the hot Canadian band Sum 41, which records on the Island Records label.

‘They don’t want to just rely on the old model of scheduling a concert, having Clear Channel sell tickets, having people go to the concert and then afterwards to the band’s Web site to see what they can buy,’ says Schwartz. ‘That’s not really touching the fans or talking to them.’

So the band applied for the short code ‘SUM41.’ Now fans can text that term [at $1 a pop] plus the keyword ‘win’ for chances at band paraphernalia and tickets to pre- and post-concert events.

The short code is also being used at concerts throughout Canada. Says Schwartz ‘The band can actually talk to fans right from the stage [and] it feels…like a personal, one-to-one conversation.’