"Red-Button" Ads Via SMS
By Justin Pearse, Wed Feb 09 09:30:00 GMT 2005

Mobile marketing is finally starting to get the stamp of approval from the media commercial world its practitioners have so long craved, as the use of SMS response mechanisms to traditional ads grows.

The UK's Channel 4, Virgin Radio and Capital FM have all separately announced ventures offering essentially the same concept: their media sales teams are now to offer advertisers and agencies the ability to have an SMS response mechanism within their standard TV or radio ads. So, for instance, an advert for a Nivea beauty product encouraged listeners to text 'nivea' to an SMS shortcode number to receive a free sample.

This functionality is of course not new. SMS has been used to respond to ads on other media for the last few years, but the formalised way in which it is now being offered is new. This formal stamp of approval is an important step, industry insiders believe, in driving uptake of mobile marketing -- and, interestingly, of mobile content, as the reward for interacting with ads is increasingly a WAP push message driving recipients to the mobile Internet.

The ability of mobile to turn relatively static media into interactive ones has long been the message pushed by the specialist mobile marketing agencies. The recent moves by some of the UK's biggest media companies show how the mainstream media world is finally formally embracing this. Ironically, bearing in mind how mobile has been doing such a good job in overshadowing pure "red button" interactivity on interactive TV, these media companies are now pitching their new mobile advertising ventures as offering "red button advertising". Channel 4 has formed a partnership with BT to offer a shortcode response on its broadcast ads, and Virgin Radio's venture, christened Feedback, is offering the same functionality. The first advertiser is Vodafone, offering an SMS voucher for a Bluetooth headset when purchasing a new phone to those that text in to the station in reply to the ad.
Capital Radio's offering, again pushing the "red button" concept, is already proving a success a couple of weeks into its official launch. "Last week a local car retailer paid extra for the SMS mechanic on its ad and sold two cars from it in just a week," says Giuseppe Troisi, interactive sales manager for Capital Radio Group.

One of key the messages to advertisers is that mobile can finally make mass-market media accountable, letting advertisers know exactly which part of their multi-million pound cross-media campaigns are most effective.

"This is a way of marking airtime accountable," says Virgin Radio business development director Chris Goldson. "We can begin to see if there are certain times of the day that generate most responses."

However, Ilika Shelley, head of mobile at media agency i-level, warns against buying too far into this argument. "With a multimedia campaign, it's difficult to know exactly what triggered the call to action. The TV campaign could have warmed you up, to be reinforced by the radio ad and then you only act when the press ad triggers you to text in," she says.

These overall developments are likely to have a dramatic impact on the uptake of mobile marketing, taking the evangelical responsibility off the relatively small shoulders of the specialist agencies.

"This is a very positive development. These media companies have huge sales teams that can drum the message long and hard" says Pamir Gelenbe of mobile marketing agency Flytxt. "The next stage is the ability, when consumers reply to ads, to capture data and send back rich information via a WAP push message, so generating WAP adoption."

Indeed, WAP usage may still be rising in the UK, but brands have been slow to adopt the medium in marketing campaigns. Many believe this is starting to change. As brands accept SMS as a standard response mechanic in advertising, and use WAP to offer compelling content in exchange for starting a relationship with consumers, this can surely only grow the medium as a whole.

"No one wants a WAP site for the sake of having a WAP site," says Gelenbe. "But if you do a direct response campaign with a bank, then you can pitch a WAP push bounceback. Then you can develop a site to gather information and suddenly you've sold them a WAP site."

It may still be over a year before a WAP site is developed for every new film campaign in the same way a micro-site is produced online, but there is a definite belief in many areas of the industry that such a scenario is on the way. This month, Levi's launched a WAP site as an integral part of the latest campaign for its 501 jeans, which will provide mobile content based around the campaign.

In fact, several mobile firms in the UK are now dramatically ramping up their WAP expertise. For instance, creative mobile marketing agency Marvellous Mobile is launching a new arm, Marv Mobile, specifically to concentrate on WAP development and aggregator Minick has tripled its WAP development team to 30 people just this year.

It's an interesting story. Simple text message marketing, being promoted using interactive television's concept of red button advertising, in turn driving WAP content usage. Nice to see a virtuous circle of technology in action.