Coke Judges China SMS Campaign a Success

Coca-Cola is crowing about the success of its short-message service (SMS) contest in China this summer, which it says increased brand awareness and led to direct interactions with consumers.

The ad campaign, which ran for a little over a month at the end of the summer, featured an interactive contest in which users would guess the highest daily temperature in Beijing via an SMS. Contestants could win a year’s supply of Coke or Siemens cell phones. Coke said more than 4 million messages were exchanged in the 35 days the “Coke Cool Summer” promotion ran across China.

“We are thrilled with the results, which frankly exceeded expectations,” said Sumanta Dutta, Coca-Cola China’s brand director. “Consumers can look forward to Coke adding more fizz on this platform, which is now clearly a key part of our consumers’ lifestyle.”

Coke chose a ripe market for its campaign in China, the world’s largest mobile market. According to London-based market researcher Teleconomy, China has 176 million mobile phone users. SMS in China is currently bringing in $360 million a year for carriers, and that number is expected to triple to $1.2 billion by 2006.

The SMS contest featured a television ad that encouraged consumers to enter by running a ticker pushing the contest and offering downloads of the Coke advertising jingle. Coke said over the course of the campaign, Chinese mobile users downloaded the jingle nearly 50,000 times.

“The results highlight how interactive brands like Coke can leverage SMS to connect with consumers through simple wireless campaigns that are sensitive to the core tenet that you need permission of the consumer to pull this off,” said Ranganath Thota, chief executive of contests2win, the wireless agency that designed the contest.

Coca-Cola’s China SMS campaign is not new for the company. This summer, in the Czech Republic, it marketed Sprite to teenagers through an SMS promotion in which Sprite drinkers sent codes on Sprite caps via SMS in return for discounts on a popular clothing brand. The company has also engaged in SMS efforts in Thailand and in Spain.

Other marketers like Heineken have also tapped into the interactivity afforded by SMS in countries with high text-messaging penetration. In March, the Dutch beer maker ran an interactive quiz contest in Britain designed by New York-based Agency.com. The promotion, run in British pubs, featured text message-based trivia game with instant prize fulfillment. Like the Coke campaign, the Heineken game was user-initiated, giving the advertiser active brand interaction.

While text messaging has caught fire in Europe and Asia, the U.S. market has lagged behind. According to Mobile Lifestreams, monthly SMS volume with reach 62.4 billion by the end of the year, but only 11 percent of that will come from North America.

Slow adoption in the United States has been blamed on higher prices for the service and incompatible standards of different cellular carriers. However, recently U.S. carriers have made moves toward cross-carrier messaging and have reported increased use of text-messaging services.

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