Virgin Mobile Texts Tales to Take On Teen Homelessness

The characters in “Ghost Town” are foils to the glamour girls and studs featured in most teen dramas flooding the TV airwaves. Indeed, even the way the tale of Ghost, Kat and Roach is told bears little comparison. Two to three times a day since August 14, more than 10,000 subscribers to the mobile “TextNovella” get mini-chapters in text message form sent to their Virgin Mobile phones. The story of the three homeless high school-aged kids is the second effort put forth by Virgin Mobile in conjunction with YouthNoise, an organization and social networking community for kids that partners with nonprofits representing a variety of issues, from climate change to corporate responsibility.

In its search for a youth-oriented nonprofit collaborator, Virgin chose to work with YouthNoise to home in on the teen homelessness issue. What the two organizations have dubbed “The Re-Generation Campaign” is not only raising awareness of YouthNoise; it’s shining the spotlight on its partner, Stand Up for Kids, a group dedicated to aiding homeless and street kids. According to Rosen, the independent charitable unit aimed to work with an organization it could have “a very disproportionate impact on,” according to Rosen.

“We identified [YouthNoise] as a really innovative organization that offered us a community of 18- to 24-year-olds, our target market, that was already engaged in issues,” explained Ariel Rosen, Virgin Mobile USA’s director of pro-social programs. The project is part of The Virgin Group’s socially-conscious “Virgin Unite” division.

“Virgin Mobile has a reputation in the youth market as an edgy, relevant, authentic group,” observed YouthNoise CEO Ginger Thomson, noting it made sense for her organization to associate with the “highly relevant youth brand.”

In its efforts to appeal to tech-savvy kids, YouthNoise is also partnering with avatar provider Meez to offer its members the ability to dress their Meez avatars with YouthNoise branded gear like hoodies and background images. The three-dimensional Meez characters can be displayed across the Web, wherever simple images can be uploaded.

The wireless service provider notified its subscribers about the mobile novella, allowing them to sign up through their phones or on the YouthNoise site to receive the text message series. The Virgin Mobile site promotes the novella offering on its USA homepage, and devotes a site section to the broader Re-Generation campaign. Subscribers can still register online on the YouthNoise Web site.

The mobile story is set to come to a close September 14, and in true communal spirit, is allowing subscribers to submit comments and ideas on how they think the yarn should spin out. That feedback is being gathered by Virgin Mobile and will eventually appear on the YouthNoise site, according to YouthNoise’s Thomson.

To kick off the Re-Generation effort, the organizations devised a contest in June allowing contenders to display their creativity by designing phone charms. All four million Virgin Mobile users received e-mail and SMS invites to enter the contest. The first place phone jewelry designer was awarded a trip to Africa to work with organizations dealing with AIDS orphans, and four runners-up won trips to New Orleans to assist with Katrina disaster relief.

Phone charms, explained Virgin’s Rosen, are “‘intended to be a badge of honor.” The accessories are available in Virgin stores, on the YouthNoise Web site, and will be offered to attendees of the Virgin Festival rock show in Baltimore later this month. Those who covet the charms must display “levels of saintliness” in order to be deemed worthy of receiving one, said Rosen; “saintliness” can be exhibited by volunteering for a ReGeneration-related effort, or donating to the cause.

The phone firm is offering four ways to donate. When people purchase special ringtones from Jewel, Gnarls Barkley and James Blunt, a minimum of 50 percent of the profits will go towards the Re-Generation partners. Or, subscribers can give via shortcode for YouthNoise or Stand Up for Kids and Virgin Mobile will match the donations. Donations can also be made directly through the Virgin Unite site. In addition, Virgin Mobile will give 5 percent of profits from downloads of phone content like ringtones or graphics.

Both Virgin and YouthNoise expect the partnership to continue indefinitely. “The exciting thing for us is creating this community that will just keep going,” added Rosen.

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