Text Effort Offers Readers Royal Treatment

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Pan Macmillan's children's book division is drumming up interest in the United Kingdom for its latest release, "The Princess Diaries: Mia Goes Fourth," by creating a text messaging club for the book's target audience, teen-age girls.


The Princess Diaries Princess Club gives readers a chance to behave like princesses. Begun in late August, the club heralded today's debut of the fourth Princess Diaries book by U.S. author Meg Cabot.


"The idea behind the club is really to create a mini-form of CRM around the book," said Pamir Gelenbe, director of corporate business development at Flytxt Ltd., the London wireless marketing firm behind the effort.


Targeting girls older than 12, the latest installment of Princess Diaries is the story of Mia, a teen-age girl living in New York. Mia one day discovers she is a princess of a small European land called Genovia. It comes as a shock and though she does not want to be one, she has to learn how to be a princess.


The club aims to inject the spirit of the Princess Diaries series and sustain that interest among members.


Readers were asked to join the club by texting a number printed in advertisements across British teen girl magazines like Mizz, Sugar and Shout. The book, too, has a number that differs from the print ad to distinguish where the text is coming from.


To register, readers text in their birth date and reason why they deserve royal treatment. Girls younger than 12 cannot participate.


Once signed in, readers get a welcome text message from Macmillan with opt-out instructions. Then begins the interactive back-and-forth between publisher and audience. One message may yield snippets from the book. Another may give tips on how to be a princess: "1. Get body guard 2. Ensure ur called Ur Highness 3. Don't bite nails."


The publisher will ask readers to reply to questions like, "Dear Princess: Mia & Lilly r best friends since 4ever. Txt & tell us the top 3 best things about ur best friend. U could win a sparkly eyeshadow."


That is one of many prizes up for grabs. The grandest is a 500 pounds sterling ($782) Princess Makeover Shopping Spree at Selfridges, an upscale department store in London.


"We're using text messaging because we realize that teen-age girls in the UK love to text, and the book is right for the audience," said Viviene Basset, marketing manager at Macmillan's Children's Books.


The plan is to continue messaging for a year right through the publication of the sixth Princess Diaries book. The latest book costs 5 pounds 99 pence ($9.40) for the trade paperback.


"Macmillan would like to know more about their readers, which, historically, they've really had a tough time doing," Gelenbe said. "The publishing industry is one of those businesses where it's really tough to cost-effectively a) collect data on your readers; and b) maintain an ongoing direct marketing program.


"These books are sold for a few pounds, so it's not like you can invest into a massive direct marketing program," he said. "On top of that, with these teen-age girls, there are all sorts of laws, and it's hard to get databases and addresses."


The cost of the campaign is being kept under wraps, but Gelenbe said a typical text message costs a dime versus a direct mail piece's 50 cents. Flytxt, one of Britain's leaders in wireless marketing, has clients like Carlsberg, BBC, Barclays, Channel 4, Columbia TriStar and Sony.


For this Princess Diaries campaign, Flytxt intends to push out a few messages each month, including polls.


The campaign rides on two trends: the British teen-age girl's love of texting and dreams of being a princess. According to focus groups by Flytxt, two out of three British teens preferred to lose the cell phone's voice capability than text.


But Macmillan knows that the same text-savvy teens are pummeled daily with text messages. So it is vital to stand out from the clutter. And those are not the only hurdles.


"The challenge is the fact that we can do only very short text and also it's not in color yet," Basset said. "We'll be able to send pictures soon, in six months' time. And we have to be very clever because teen-agers in the UK are bombarded with text. So the campaign has to be very creative, and that is why ours is interactive."


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