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Marketers are hearing the ring of success by way of cell phones

Coming to a small screen near you: Coupons, recipes and marketing messages galore.

Your cell phone screen is the latest tool for marketers seeking to win over customers - especially 18- to 36-year-olds.

Polls on TV programs, including "American Idol" and the Super Bowl, are the best-known form of this marketing. Customers dial a five-digit code and key in a short text message.

Consumer-product companies, retailers, rock bands and radio stations also are using codes and text messages to cement their relationships with customers. Marketers use codes to sell cell-phone content - ringtones, screen savers, wallpaper and text alerts - related to topics such as sports or name brands.

The cell phone industry began offering the codes two years ago as a way for marketers to interact with customers who use text messaging. In the first year, 150 companies licensed more than 450 five-digit codes. Last year, the number of codes issued grew by a factor of six, according to CTIA-the Wireless Association, which licenses short codes through a Web site, www.usshortcodes.com.

Customers who take the trouble to key in a code tend to be more interested in - and more likely to buy - products than people passively viewing a commercial or print ad, said John Styers, director of data communications services for Sprint.

"The most important allure (of short codes) is self-selection. They're driving a behavior for individuals who are wanting to know more about a brand or to interact with a program," he said. "It costs millions to do that with shotgun marketing."

Advertisers can get immediate feedback on a commercial or ad campaign by including a code. For example:

DaimlerChrysler sent a code and Web site address to owners of Dodge vehicles, offering ringtones based on the brand's advertising jingle as well as images they could use as wallpaper on their cell phone screens.

Dove soap used a short code in its "real beauty" ad campaign last year. Customers could dial a code and vote on whether an elderly woman on billboards was "wrinkled" or "wonderful."

The American Red Cross used the short code 2Help to seek donations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The campaign helped redirect traffic that was overwhelming the agency's toll-free number, allowing it to put workers in the field rather than on the phones.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. ran a Bud Light promotion at bars urging customers to use their phones to send messages to screens set up for the evening. A-B also offers cell phone screensavers and ringtones at Budweiser.com.

The campaign was designed to raise brand awareness among 21- to 28-year-olds in a way that was fun and social, said Rick Leininger, Bud Light brand director. More than 7,000 unique users sent 80,000 messages during the campaign's 28-city tour, he said.

"Internet and mobile are huge aspects of how we communicate to consumers," Leininger said. But they're usually integrated with traditional media campaigns.

Text-to-screen applications, such as the Bud Light promotion, also have been popular at rock concerts, where fans can send messages to an electronic board and, in some cases, win prizes.

"Everybody wants to see their name in lights," said Jack Philbin, president and founder of Vibes Media, a Chicago-based mobile marketing firm that designed the Bud Light campaign.

Customers used the message displays to flirt in bars, for example. At concerts, they've been used for marriage proposals and other messages.

Mobile marketing helps companies get more mileage out of their marketing dollars, Philbin said. "When people respond to a call to action - that's real engagement."

Hip and fun

The best mobile marketing campaigns keep customers engaged by giving them entertaining information centered on a brand, Philbin said. "There's an insatiable demand for interaction."

Philbin doesn't advocate sending unsolicited messages. Instead, he prefers to design campaigns that prompt customers to dial in, get an entertaining message or teaser, then dial back again and again for more. A well-designed campaign can draw dozens of responses from each potential customer, he said.

"Every single individual gets a customized experience," Philbin said. "It breaks through the clutter" of other advertising in a way that's "hip, cool, young and fun."

Mobile marketing allows companies to target consumers they want to reach anytime, anywhere, said Laura Marriott, executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association. Research shows that about 36 percent of consumers are interested in participating in mobile campaigns, she said.

Marketers tend to use mobile content as one element in a comprehensive media campaign, Marriott said. It's a small part of most campaigns now, but it's growing.

The use of text messaging on cell phones "is bigger than most people imagine but not as big as everybody would like," said Will Hodgman, chief executive of M:Metrics Inc. of Seattle. He formed the company in November 2004 to study the use of messaging, so advertisers could measure the potential impact of a mobile campaign.

In the United States, about 200 million people have cell phone service, according to CTIA-the Wireless Association. Most phones are capable of text-messaging even if their owners don't realize it.

About 58 million customers have used text messaging, 21 million have used the Internet on their phones and 17 million have purchased a ringtone, Hodgman said. In June, cell phone customers sent 7.2 billion messages using the text feature built into most phones.

"When advertisers see that kind of market penetration, they start drooling," said Tamara Gaffney, a mobile industry analyst for Telephia, a San Francisco market research firm.

Text-messaging is most popular with young users, making mobile marketing a good fit for companies trying to reach that demographic. But it's also gaining popularity with young adults and others who want quick access to specialized information, including sports, weather and stock quotes.

Advertisers must be careful to deliver value when they entice customers to dial a code, Gaffney said. Cell phone customers know they're paying for a message. Even if it costs a dime or less, they still want some value, whether it's a free game, ringtone, coupon or trivia quiz.

Mark Nagel, Cingular's director of entertainment services, said short codes have helped companies sell specialized content.

"Most of our sales (of ringtones, games and wallpaper) historically have come through people surfing the Internet on their phones," Nagel said.

But marketers can drive buyers directly to their content by publicizing a code in print ads or in other media. Some record labels are putting codes on CD cases to sell ringtones based on popular music.

The campaign can be tailored for a nontraditional audience, Nagel said. "We tend to gear services to a broader marketplace."

For example, Jamster, a company that sells ringtones based on a variety of music genres, tends to market on cable-TV channels such as MTV and BET, where Cingular advertises less frequently.

"Even when we offer the same content, (short codes give a marketer) the ability to reach new people," Nagel said.

Some marketers believe that short codes eventually will become as pervasive in advertising as Web site addresses are now, said Drew Hull, research director for NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y.

"You hear people say that short codes will be tomorrow's URL," Hull said.

Mobile marketing relies on common short codes

Common short codes are the glue that holds mobile marketing together.

The five-digit codes allow cell phone users to participate in polls or trivia games, retrieve coupons and download games and ringtones quickly, without taxing the brain.

CTIA-the Wireless Association manages the issuance of short codes. Companies register at www.usshortcodes.com, then they pay $500 a month for a random numeric code or $1,000 a month for a vanity code, such as one that spells a word.

Codes can be rented for three, six or 12 months. Renewals are high, especially for vanity codes associated with name brands.

The advantage of short codes versus calling a toll-free phone number are that messages go into a queue, rather than tying up an attendant answering phone calls. Return messages come back to a caller's phone as text, where they can be retrieved at the customer's convenience.

The codes have been popular with consumer brands, radio stations and services such as ESPN's sports alert service, said Jeff Simmons, director of technology programs for CTIA.

"The growth is tremendous," he said. "We are in the process now of considering adding other ranges of digits, specifically six-digit codes."

Short codes:

These 5-digit codes allow marketers to connect with customers who use text messaging. "American Idol" and other popular TV shows use these codes to decide what will happen next with a show or contestant.

Text-to-screen applications:

Web sites such as Epicurious.com allow users to download recipes, graphics and other items to their cell phones for later use. The Anheuser-Busch Cos. Web site allows text messaging to friends about concerts, songs or meeting times, as well as downloading ring tones and graphics.


The potential for cell phones in marketing is huge. Research shows that about 36 percent of consumers are interested in participating in mobile campaigns.

Phones are becoming electronic shopping lists

How many times have you gone grocery shopping and been unable to remember all the ingredients for a recipe you wanted to try?

New technology allows users of Epicurious.com to download recipes and ingredient lists to their mobile phones, which then function as electronic shopping lists.

The latest version of the technology will combine the ingredient lists from several recipes, so you know you need three sticks of butter to make three recipes, not a half stick for one, two sticks for another and a tablespoon for a third. You even can add toilet paper and dog food to the phone's shopping list.

The technology also enables advertisers to promote their brands with recipes that contain their products, either with a banner on a phone's Web screen or a button to click for more information, said David Herman, chief executive of Juice Wireless Inc. One of the first advertisers to use it was Turning Leaf wine, a Gallo product.

Herman said Juice Wireless, a mobile data company based in New York, came up with the idea of downloading recipes when working with Conde Nast, publisher of Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Parade magazines, and the owner of Epicurious.com. The application, Epi To Go, uses "tag and retrieve" technology to mark information that can be retrieved later by clicking a button in a phone's Web browser.

Juice Wireless delivered the technology to Epicurious last February. The company didn't promote it, but each recipe on the Web site has a "send to my phone" button at the top. Since then, nearly 30,000 users have registered to use the feature, and 20,000 are tagging at least one recipe a month, Herman said.

Starting Sunday, Juice Wireless will roll out updated technology that Epicurious and Conde Nast will promote with nine new features, including the ability to search for a recipe from the phone, not just on the Web site.


Jerri Stroud, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 12, 2006

Copyright © 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch L.L.C.. All rights reserved.