What's Up With M-coupons?
By Carlo Longino, Wed Apr 06 21:15:00 GMT 2005

According to the hype of five years ago, we're all supposed to be getting bombarded by great m-coupons and loving it by now. So what went wrong?


It was yet another marketer's fantasy: a consumer walks by a coffee shop, or movie theater, or store, or whatever, and a coupon's instantly sent to their mobile device to lure them in. It's mostly failed to materialize, perhaps because of technology, but mainly because consumers don't take lightly to being hit with unsolicited messages on their mobile phones.

A recent university study found that 92 percent of the students it surveyed found unsolicited mobile ads annoying. While that might not be enough to stop overzealous marketers, 67 percent said they were less likely to buy from a company that used unsolicited ads, and only 5 percent that had received mobile spam ads remembered who it was from. A meager 1 percent had actually responded.

So are all m-coupons doomed? That's probably a bit of an overstatement. The point here being just because there's an opportunity for marketers to ram their messages down users throats, they don't have to take it -- and if they do, they stand to do more harm to their business than good.

Russell Buckley offers some cogent advice to anyone thinking of getting into SMS advertising: "For the record, SMS advertising does work if:
1. It's opt in and therefore not Spam.
2. If it's timely.
3. If it's targeted.
4. If it's relevant.
5. If it adds value to the recipient.

It should be all 5, but I'm willing to concede that only 4 might be OK in some circumstances."

What got me thinking about all this was a brief mention that a Canadian record label is using m-coupons to push a new album. Users send a text to a shortcode, and get a coupon back for $2 off the album at a particular chain of record stores. It meets Russell's criteria for the most part, but it's hard to get excited about this type of thing, since it's just a coupon, with little value beyond that, and it makes little use of mobile as a platform. No mention, either, if the record company takes sending for the coupon as an opt-in to send all other sorts of messages.

Point servers might offer a better solution, giving retailers and other users the flexibility to introduce more compelling services and applications. Movie theaters could distribute a J2ME showtimes application, and users could let it update either over the network, or via Bluetooth when they're in range, and the theaters could send coupons along with the information. There's the potential to do things like this, that add value (beyond a one-time coupon) for users, and also encourage an ongoing relationship with the retailer or product.