Pay-per-text: The Next Frontier?

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In today's society consumers are bombarded with more than 3,000 marketing messages a day and people consume more media than ever before. Everyone is time-deprived and constantly on the go. Marketers are challenged with how to reach its audience and advertisers are vying for a little device that we carry around with us everywhere 24/7 as the next frontier: the cell phone.

Today, there are more than 212 million cell phones in the United States alone. Imagine the possibility of being able to deliver targeted marketing messages to these subscribers and, more importantly, at a time when they are looking for products and services that you can offer.

We've talked about mobile marketing for years. As marketers, we've heard the promises and the benefits. But have these materialized? In the best of cases, rarely; in most cases, no. From now on, yes.

Pay-per-text (text = SMS in the U.S) is a brand new way of advertising that has just launched in Britain. As we know, mobile penetration and usage is rampant in Europe, so let's look to our friends from across the pond to find out more.

We have teamed up with Britain's leading directory assistance provider, 118 118, to launch a pay-per-text product called TXT//AD. Unlike in the U.S., where users have the option to request a text message of a phone number when they call directory assistance, in Britain 118 118 automatically sends one. TXT//AD enables advertisers for the first time to buy space within tens of millions of 118 118 text messages sent each year. The new ads are sold to targeted ad groups and include advertisers' phone numbers as well as special offers.

For example, Hertz could now buy space in every text message sent in response to 118 118 enquiries for companies in the 'airlines' ad group. They could offer a "10 percent off your next holiday car rental" to users who have requested the phone number for American Airlines and Virgin Airways.

It's targeted advertising that consumers are incredibly open to. Research conducted by Saviile Rossiter prior to the launch of pay-per-text on 118 118 showed that 93 percent of consumers wanted to receive this information and 8.3 percent said that they would use the number.

What is more interesting though is the finding that 64 percent said that if they didn't use the advertiser's number immediately, they would do at some point. Imagine that: your company's phone number saved onto the SIM card of a prospective customer. And it would probably be there for life - people change their phones, not their phone number.

Given the cutthroat competition to attract customers, it would seem it is only a matter of time before this kind of service becomes prevalent in the U.S. which is, by far, the world's largest consumer market.

Research by eMarketer predicts that the amount spent on mobile advertising and marketing in the U.S. will reach $760.4 million by 2009. What will be required are advertisers willing to think and act progressively in their advertising campaigns and mobile phone providers with a vision for maximizing the value of their network.

Chrysi Philalithes is New York-based vice president of global marketing and communications at Miva. E-mail chrysi.philalithes@miva.com.

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