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Mobile Marketers Should Show by Example

  |  February 7, 2008   |  Comments

Verizon makes a smart appearance in CW's "Gossip Girl."

I've recently become addicted to a TV show I've never actually watched via broadcast television. It's the number-one downloaded show on iTunes, so I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in my newfound obsession. Without a doubt, I've become totally caught up in the lives of Manhattan's teen elite as featured on the CW's "Gossip Girl."

Although I'd heard about the show before the 2007-2008 premiere, it didn't make my list of shows to be recorded in the DVR. The writers' strike changed all that, sending me to search for shows to catch up on midseason. After a few episodes, I remembered I'd tagged a news release in del.icio.us that touted the victory Verizon achieved over the other tier-one carriers in securing product placement in the show. At the time, I figured the integration would be the usual device placement here and there; essentially, glorified product shots. However, I underestimated Verizon much in the same manner as I had the series.

What's got me jazzed: Verizon handsets have become increasingly integral to the show's storyline. The handsets themselves are distributed among the characters in way that seems to mirror their social standing -- I almost expect Dan to get an upgrade from the Krzr if his relationship with Serena continues. Beyond handset integration, the show has gone a long way in highlighting non-voice mobile data features.

While certain elements of "Gossip Girl" exist only in the minds (at least I hope!) of the creative writers, I can't fathom reliving my high-school years with the aid of a mobile device. I also attended a private school with a pretty catty group of girls and can guarantee we'd all have juvenile records had there been a digital trail of our escapades. What sufficed as communication in my day -- long-winded voicemail messages, handwritten notes, mix tapes, and so on -- has been replaced with text messaging, mobile e-mail, picture messaging, and mobile mapping. According to new data, the general mobile population is beginning to mirror the lives of certain TV characters.

There are currently 254 million U.S. mobile subscribers, according to CTIA.org. While voice remains a primary use, data features like those highlighted in "Gossip Girl" increase quarter over quarter. A January eMarketer report shows that of 18-plus mobile phone users, 141 million used SMS or text, 89 million used MMS (define) (most likely picture messaging, as MMS is still not interoperable in the U.S.), and 67 million to connect to the Web or to WAP (define) content. Take note, these numbers exclude anyone under the age of 18.

Verizon Communications reported a 3.9 percent increase in fourth-quarter 2007 profits. That was due in part to 2 million new wireless customers, bringing the total number of Verizon wireless customers to almost 66 million for the year. Further, mobile data revenues for the company were up 65 percent over 2006, year over year. As for data usage, Verizon subscribers alone sent or received about 45 billion SMS or text messages and 927 million MMS in the fourth quarter.

It's no secret that mobile data features have been slower to catch on with U.S. consumers than other markets around the world. Is that because no one has taken the time to lead by example? In the case of "Gossip Girl" and Verizon, the product integration is simply brilliant. Other cellular brands have gone down the same route over the past couple of years, such as Sprint with "24" and "Heroes." But Verizon represents the first real example of a mobile brand using a TV show to demonstrate the promise of non-voice mobile communication.

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Courtney Acuff

With more than 237 million cell phone users in the U.S. alone, Courtney Jane Acuff’s charge within Denuo as director is to deliver consumer insights and innovative media solutions in the wireless space. Prior to this, Acuff stood at the helm of one of mobile marketing’s most influential media agencies, SMG Digits, where she harnessed mobile communications' power, influence, and potential. At Digits, she researched, designed, and executed the first-ever domestic, consumer-centric wireless market analysis, providing insights into the medium’s potential for relevant consumer engagement. It was the first effort by an agency to understand consumers' burgeoning use of mobile applications, the content they access, and how they want the technology to be a part of their lives.

Acuff currently consults for clients such as Walt Disney World, Walgreens, Sprint, and Philip Morris, framing the mobile marketplace and guiding marketing initiatives. She maintains strong relationships with mobile back-end providers and is a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association. Her influence in the industry earned her coveted recognition as a “Twentysomething to Watch” in 2004 by "Advertising Age." Acuff holds B.A.s in political science and communications, both from Lake Forest College in Illinois.

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