Marketing Through Common Short Codes

At the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA’s) Mobile Marketing Forum (MMF) last week in New York, almost every publisher, brand, and agency that spoke about its mobile marketing campaigns and successes, mentioned common short codes (CSCs). Unknown to many, CSCs are the five- or six-digit text messaging (or SMS) numbers marketers provide to consumers so they can interactively engage in a campaign.

One of the most popular examples is “American Idol.” Viewers are requested to text in the five- or six-digit number of their favorite Idol. Each translates as a vote. Rather than have consumers enter a long telephone number (xxx-xxx-xxxx), marketers offer CSCs to simplify participation in text-based mobile messaging campaigns. Launched in the United States in 2003, roughly 1,700 CSCs exist today.

Short Code Primer

In the United States, the CSC process is managed by the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) and is supported by participating wireless carriers, mobile application service providers (MASPs), and aggregators. Any company or brand may acquire a short code, but it must work within the steps and application process outlined by the CSCA to obtain their codes. Brands should also be aware there are monthly leasing rates that apply to each and every short code, very similar to the URL process.

Currently, there are two types of short codes available: random and vanity. Random CSCs are numbers the CSCA randomly assigns; vanity CSCs are selected based on the a brand’s requirements. For example, 12345 would be a random number, whereas NIKE1 could be a vanity code for Nike.

Short code campaigns may be launched as standard SMS programs, in which consumers aren’t charged for the content; or as premium SMS (PSMS) programs, for which consumers are charged. In both instances, the basic messaging charges under the carrier’s rate plan apply. With PSMS, the consumer is also charged an additional fee for the content.

Due to their ease of use for consumers, CSCs help increase consumer response to advertising and marketing promotions. For some, text messaging is new. Thus, it simplifies the data entry process and the ability to participate in campaigns.

To aid in the launch of campaigns, the MMA has released a short code primer (PDF file) that outlines the steps a brand or agency should follow when pursuing a CSC-based mobile marketing campaign.

Brand Uses of Short Codes

At the MMF event last week, I heard several case studies outlining mobile marketing successes using short codes. “GQ” magazine, for example, realized the power of mobile and short codes for its audience. Of the GQ consumer base, 100 percent own cell phones and 93 percent use their phones for text messaging. One campaign GQ launched was a text-to-win promotion using its short code 47624 (GQMAG — a vanity CSC), which consumers could use for a chance to win a Kid Rock CD.

According to Scott Carlis, GQ’s executive marketing director, 64 percent of contestants entered within the first day of the campaign launch. What an incredible response rate — on day one, no less! The campaign’s ease of use and the targeted marketing with a marketing channel consumers already knew and understood helped drive GQ brand awareness and encourage program participation.

Cyriac Roeding, CBS Corp.’s VP of mobile, shared some of CBS’s recent short code-based mobile marketing successes as well: allowing consumers to vote for the returning housemate on “Big Brother”; downloading a ring tone from a new Coldplay song, which launched on “CSI”; and downloading a wallpaper of the housemates from “Big Brother.” All programs were based on a consumer requesting and interacting with the brand through CBS CSCs.

Perhaps one of the best-known short code campaigns, particularly in New York’s Times Square area, was “Wrinkled or Wonderful.” It was connected with Dove’s 2005 “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaign. Dove displayed pictures of women on Web sites and out-of-home advertisements and asked consumers to vote via short code 43683 (4DOVE) whether the woman was wrinkled or wonderful. The campaign encouraged lots of buzz and helped drive non-texter adoption of text messaging and short codes.


As I’ve written numerous times, mobile allows brands to connect with their consumers like never before. It gives them the chance to develop a one-to-one dialogue and relationship with consumers anytime, anywhere. CSCs are one way to do exactly this. They allow brands to offer easy-to-use, relevant, entertaining information that ultimately drives consumer action.

CSCs are easier than many other campaigns out there. I’m able to get information delivered to my fingertips at the point I’m ready to receive it. On that note, I leave you with one of my current favorite short codes with a real-world utilization.

After landing in New York last week, I grabbed a taxi to my hotel. The driver didn’t know the location of my hotel, so I simply entered the text “Paramount Hotel New York City” to 46645 (GOOGL). Within seconds, the hotel’s address and phone number were returned to me, via text message, compliments of Google. Rather than use mobile Web or standard 411 directory assistance, I had the information I needed, when I needed it — while racing through the streets of New York. If you haven’t already participated in a short-code-based campaign, try GOOGL. It’s easy and addictive!

CSCs provide a great alternative for brands to quickly and easily add mobile-messaging-based marketing to their initiatives, including information, text-to-win, interactive voting, and other innovative mobile messaging applications.

For further information on how to launch a program using short codes, visit the CSCA or MMA for guidelines, primers, applications, and case studies.

Laura is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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