Short Codes May Spark Wireless DM Surge

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The launch of Common Short Codes -- a system by which consumers can dial five-digit numbers to send text messages to companies instead of using a standard 10-digit telephone number -- could spur growth in mobile marketing.


Five-digit codes make it easier for marketers to include wireless text messages in the mix of response channels they use in direct response ads, mobile marketing providers said. They open the door to broader use of text messaging in sweepstakes, contests, coupons and other promotional devices.


For example, Clairol, a client of mobile marketer M-Qube, Boston, recently incorporated wireless text as a response mechanism in its "Dare to Streak" campaign for its Herbal Essence product. Common Short Codes let Clairol give consumers the option of dialing the short code "DARE2" and texting responses to direct response ads, said Jim Manis, vice president of M-Qube and global chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association.


"The real value [of Common Short Codes] is the personal nature of the mobile phone," he said. "It's being able to target and personally communicate with people."


Ten to 20 active campaigns are using short codes, Manis estimated. Many more will follow in January as marketers finish their holiday campaigns and start the new year with fresh budgets and in search of new ideas, he predicted.


Potential exists for short codes to appear in various places, like coupons, cereal box tops and soft drink bottle caps.


The advantage is that short codes are easier to remember than a 10-digit phone number or a URL, said Jack Philbin, president of Vibes Media, Chicago.


Short codes will spark wider use of text messages by marketers, Philbin said. Text messages are attractive because they provide immediate interaction between marketer and consumer, unlike a mail-in coupon or sweepstakes form.


For example, one Philbin client, a Minneapolis radio station, is using wireless text messages as a way for listeners to respond to contests. Callers are encouraged to text-message a word to the station, and the 25th listener to dial in gets a prize.


Each listener who sends a message gets a text message back telling them if they won and how close they were to the 25th caller. With short codes, such campaigns will be easier to implement, Philbin said.


"Instantly, you're engaging the person in a personal dialogue," he said. "It's very specific, just to them."


Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association announced the launch of Common Short Codes, or CSC, in October. CSC has been the standard for some time in Europe, which has been ahead of the curve in wireless text messaging. But prior to its institution in the United States, obtaining a five-digit code could be difficult.


The problem was that each cellular carrier had its own short-code system. Getting the rights to a single code meant negotiating with each carrier individually.


However, convening under CTIA, carriers in October agreed to use a single system and put all the available short codes into a pool, administered by NeuStar, a company that specializes in managing intercarrier network communications. All companies that want a short code now draw from one pool, making it easier for mobile marketing companies like M-Qube and Vibes to implement text-message campaigns.


The carriers collaborated on a similar effort in 2002, when they implemented wireless text interoperability. Interoperability let consumers send text messages to cell phones outside their carrier's network.


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