SMS Advertising: Engage the Consumer

If I said I could get someone to interact with your brand 80 or more times over nearly two full days, you’d probably call me crazy.

That was pretty much my reaction when I heard those numbers quoted recently during a chat with Alex Campbell, cofounder and CEO of Vibes Media. His company specializes in mobile marketing via text messaging.

SMS has long been popular in Europe. I read articles a few years ago about teenagers starting to incorporate SMS shorthand into their spoken vocabulary. It was apparently quite the rage and drove teachers nuts when they weren’t up on the lingo.

SMS has slowly been making its way to the U.S. According to Campbell, almost any phone purchased in the last three years should be capable of sending and receiving text messages. Further, roughly 88 million U.S. wireless subscribers use data services here, sending more than 3 billion text messages each month. Not surprisingly, users skew pretty young, an attractive demographic that’s getting harder to reach via non-digital channels.

Here’s one way marketers can leverage an SMS campaign:

  1. The marketer puts an SMS “short code” on any communication piece the consumer sees or hears, be it a print ad, outdoor, TV, radio, and so on. Something like, “To enter to win our sweepstakes, text “ENTER TO WIN” now.

  2. The interested consumer texts the appropriate words.
  3. That consumer receives a text-based reply on his phone, possibly with further instructions or an invitation to continue the dialogue.

Vibes has set up campaigns for almost every major Chicago-area sports team and handled many promotions during concerts and festivals. It reports strong results across the board.

One particularly successful campaign was a trivia game launched with U.S. Cellular and the Chicago White Sox. During baseball games, the “Question of the Day” would appear on the playing field’s Jumbotron. Fans responded via text messaging. After sending their replies, they’re invited to continue playing by answering more questions. Each correct answer resulted in an entry into a monthly drawing for White Sox tickets, autographed merchandise, a chance to “Take the Field” with the players, and other relevant prizes. Fans watching from home were invited to play via promos aired during the games’ TV broadcasts.

Campbell’s company has also developed technology called Text-2-Screen. It allows a concert venue to receive text messages from cell phone users and display them on a large screen located on stage. The whole process takes less than 10 seconds and is a very compelling way to get attendees more involved with the show. Messages first go through a filter that can be customized by the venue, the sponsor, or both. A sponsor’s promotional message can be appended to each cleared message.

Text messaging in this manner is a great example of an interactive ad format that engages the consumer in an entertaining manner. It speaks to people on their own terms; they can play as long as they like and quit when they’re ready. It delivers value, whether pure entertainment or the potential to win something. Text messaging is both simple and compelling. It leverages the unique (and emerging) platform of mobile devices in a much more relevant way than the old-school vision of wireless advertising.

Admittedly, this isn’t appropriate for every brand. Sports fans get pretty passionate about their teams and are a prime audience for trivia games. Outside sports and entertainment, there may be precious few verticals or topics that could initiate this sort of ongoing play.

But it doesn’t have to be trivia, and even two or three brand interactions are better than none. Hershey’s, for example, recently ran a promotion where purchasers could text their UPC code numbers to enter a sweepstakes for a trip to the X Games. That’s a great way to connect with a younger audience.

Your thumbs might cramp from so much texting, but SMS seems like it can get people talking to and interacting with a brand. That’s a win in my book.