How One Manager Linked Artist and Individual Audience Members

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NEW YORK -- Looking back on a 36-city tour of music concert experiments involving instant phone feedback and noting that "cell phones are almost like an alcohol or cigarette addiction," Mike Caruso pronounced
Toney Starks, performing under the stage name Ghostface Killah, has upped album sales with SMS marketing technology.

SMS promotions a rousing success for hip-hop artist Ghostface Killah.

Ghostface, whose real name is Toney Starks, was a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, which came out of Staten Island, N.Y., to become a major recording act.

Mr. Caruso is Ghostface's manager and a proponent of integrating the latest consumer communications technology into live concerts to connect artists and their sponsors directly to individual members of an audience.

Laser-projected number

Last year when Ghostface set out as a member of the Linkin Park Projekt Revolution music tour, which visited three-dozen cities across the country, Mr. Caruso arranged through Boomerang Mobile Media for audience members to call a phone number displayed onstage to get a recorded message and instructions for opting in for further SMS text messages from the artist. The concept made personal phone use a part of the entertainment, as individual audience members called the number from their seats to hear the message and pitch from Ghostface.

SMS -- for short message service -- allows users to instantly send and receive cryptic text messages on their cell phones.

While Ghostface was performing, a telephone number was beamed by laser to the wall behind the stage. The audience -- mostly young people between 15 and 25 -- grabbed their cells and dialed. The recorded message of Ghostface himself told them to opt in for more information and for a chance to win an album, concert tickets or an invitation to the after-party that night. Some 55% of the audiences called.

'Amazing' opt-in response rate

Mr. Caruso said the caller response and SMS opt-in rate was amazing, and that the subsequent text-messaging promotion campaign throughout the tour played a major role in selling an estimated quarter million more albums than anticipated.

He said that nearly everyone attending music concerts is carrying a cell phone and just itching for an excuse to use that personal technology in some entertaining manner. The Boomerang/Ghostface effort did just that.

"Grassroots methods sell albums," said Mr. Caruso, who noted that the on-site concert promotion of the artist with the cell phone/SMS technique was far more effective than the traditional methods of "passing out fliers that generally end up on the floor."

Not like spam

Cell phone SMS messages are not like spam, said Glenn Field, CEO of Sarasota, Fla.-based Boomerang. Musicians and marketers of other sorts typically can't send a message unless the recipient has opted in to received one, he said.

"If we have consumers opt in to the marketer, we have a higher ROI [return on investment]," he said.

Boomerang Chairman Lou Schultz said such "mobile marketing" is cheaper than other direct marketing methods and the results are available quickly.

Times Square billboard

SMS as a marketing technique first rose to widespread notice on reality TV hit American Idol, when at-home viewers were invited to call in and vote for their favorite performer. In the latest high-profile use of the technology, Unilever's Dove soap this week installed an SMS feedback billboard in Times Square. Using the billboard like a computer screen to display various images, it asks pedestrians to vote on them. Each vote -- delivered by cell phone SMS -- can be seen changing the totals on the billboard.

Revenue for mobile marketing is expected to reach over $5 billion by the end of 2005, according to the Mobile Marketing Association.
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