How to do Mobile Marketing Fast and Cheap

Text messaging programs with a shortcode often involve complexities requiring good sized budgets and months of lead time to set up. I’ve certainly wished this weren’t the case as I’ve managed many of these initiatives.

Sometimes there are effective shortcuts.

Coors Light recently added an interactive element to ads with a simple text messaging program. Fans txt’d “coorslight” to 44636, opting in for SMS updates on the NFL draft. Subscribers received a series of 31 messages which came as each NFL team made its top pick.

Agency DraftFCB handled the text messaging part of the program, implemented with a free text service. 4Info lets you publish via SMS for free. They are ad supported, selling text ad space at the end of published text messages.

This approach can only handle a small subset of text programs, but is effective marketers who only need simple publishing.

Tradeoffs include:

  • avoid the considerable time and expense of a new branded shortcode
  • loose flexibility in sharing the 4Info (44636) shortcode
  • avoid most of the other costs of a text messaging program
  • your messages may include ads from other brands
  • few options for programing, interactivity, integration, and control

Here’s what the program looks like to subscribe:

me: coorslight
Coors Light, the official beer of the NFL is proud to provide NFL Draft Results. To confim you’re 21 & receive alerts, reply PICK + TEAM NAME ex. PICK JETS
pick niners
NFL SF@OAK 8/8 10p Reply 1 for NFL San Francisco 49ers score alerts *Courtyard by Marriot. Reply CTYD

I didn’t get a chance to see the TV commercial for this — if anyone has a link, please share in the comments.

Thanks to Mobile Marketer for the article bringing this campaign to my attention. The New York Times has an interesting article on the broader Coors Light campaign including the social media elements.

Mobile Charity: The $10k SuperBowl Ad

No, they didn’t pay $10k for a SuperBowl ad.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the United Way Superbowl spot asking users to text “fit” to UNITED (864833) raised about $10,000. Of each $5 donation, United Way got about $4.50. By my math, that’s 2,000 $5 donations from a single 10-second spot viewed by nearly 100 million (second most-watched TV show ever).

Could they have done better with what they had?

pSMS (premium SMS) allows interaction with a user which adds small charges to a cell phone bill, typically under $10. In the US, it had been limited to selling mobile content and dominated by ringtones.

According to the carrier rules, you couldn’t make a pSMS charge to deliver a real-world good a service, or to accept a donation to charity.

The rules also have mobile carriers and aggregators keeping a large percentages of the charges as revenue share. Varying from carrier to carrier and negotiated by volume, etc., you might get back only 60% of revenues, and this still requires you to do all the work of programming the service, promoting it, etc. This is as if the credit card companies charged 40% instead of low single-digits for processing charges through merchant accounts, but don’t get me started.

Until recently, the only exception to both rules had been donations to the Red Cross during disasters. Slowly more exceptions are being made, and here’s a little more detail.

I know how mobile works in detail (having run many pSMS programs) and I had questions when I viewed the spot during the game. I didn’t know enough about what I was being asked to do, how it would work, how much it would cost me (“$5” was buried in small print at the end), what the privacy impact would be (would I be solicited for more donations?), and what the benefit would be.

Even remembering the instructions might have been challenging (how many Budwiesers had the viewer consumed at this point in the game?). Why not run the instructions at the bottom of the screen through the whole spot:

Help United Way Reduce Childhood Obesity, give $5 through your cell bill.
Text “fit” to 864833. It’s easy, no hidden charges, no calls.

Did they test this ad by serving chips and beer in a living room and showing it? When doing something fairly new, a little insight goes a long way, and since you’re not after absolutely objective data, a fancy research firm with expensive scientific validation isn’t necessary. Cheap and informal work does great here. Ask folks what they thought about it and watch them while they try to do it on their phones after you answer their questions.

Anyway, since I try every shortcode program I run across, I made one of those 2,000 donations back in February. I wonder if nearly all 2,000 were from mobile industry folks. Here’s what the program looks like on my phone (four text messages):

Me: fit
864833: “To confirm your $5 donation to United Way youth fitness reply with the word YES. For more info visit: Other charges may apply.
Me: yes
864833: Thanks for your $5 donation to United Way. Donate up to 5 times by sending FIT to 86433. Encourage others to donate. Info reply HELP, Other charges may apply.

They don’t ask for permission to text the user later. Otherwise they might follow up to see if they are interested in volunteer opportunities, tell them about outcomes with the donation they made, ask them to take action in support of some legislation, or let them know about other causes or ways to donate. Would some who gave $5 want to contribute much more if they’d been further engaged?

Also, TV is only one way to promote these mobile donations. How would they do with print? Outdoor? Or with calling for people to take out their phones at events?

The Mobile Giving Foundation
is pushing to move this kind of program from rare exception to common practice.

The carriers win when everyone understands pSMS better and sees it as applying to more than ringtones. Allowing mobile philanthropy meets that goal and creates good will, so I hope progress will be made to quickly allow many more non-profits to experiment with mobile donations. For their part, I hope non-profits work to develop and share insights from listeing to and observing those in their target audience so that any hurdles to mobile adoption are most effectively understood and overcome.

ADDED 12:45pm: Mobile Active included many more details about the Mobile Giving Foundation and vendors used in implementing the United Way program.

Get mobile copy on the front page of the New York Times

I never imagined that I might write copy that would appear on the front page of the New York Times, but it was there in the print edition, reproduced in a screenshot from the signup pages my team produced.

My client NARAL Pro-Choice America ran into a bit of a problem with Verizon over the text messaging program I helped them put together. It smacked of censorship, so they went public with the issue and got a reversal from the CEO of Verizon within an hour. Still, the potential for this to happen to others is still very real. I’m not quoted in the article, and wasn’t directly involved in getting it published, but congratulations to the savvy folks at NARAL Pro-Choice America who turned this problem into an opportunity and stood up for us all. Fighting the carriers publicly isn’t usually an option for most working with mobile, but the alternatives leave much to be desired.

Even without taking into account free speech issues, the current US shortcode process is overly expensive and difficult. Many choose established shared-shortcodes to avoid as much of it as possible. I’ve helped bring live dozens of shortcodes, and have seen first-hand how good programs are frequently delayed or denied for trivial and/or arbitrary reasons. As a consumer, though, I’ve tried mobile programs which should never have been allowed to go live, violating rules that do protect the interest of consumer and carrier alike.

I’d love the carriers to agree to a uniform set of rules and to delegate program approval and certification to a single body (or trusted aggregators), leaving each carrier to handle technical provisioning only. This would help the whole industry by creating more consistency for protections to the consumer and would reduce costs to carriers and to those who build SMS programs by cutting redundancies and the arbitrary differences of multiple standards as well as regulating the updates to those standards. As it stands now, it is difficult for even the most diligent experts to keep up with all the rules and how they are interpreted — imagine having to file your income tax with five different governments that each have differing rules that are updated quarterly!

As to the free speech issue, I was heartened to read Nancy Keenan and Roberta Combs in the Washington Post. Right on! When the presidents of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Christian Coalition of America agree on something, we should all stand up and take notice. As power shifts, corporate censorship may be a more important issue in this century than government censorship has been in the past.