Global news: Text messaging ads on fast track in Asia

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[hong kong] Teens in Singapore spend hours tapping out messages to friends on their cell phones but these days they're as likely to be pitched on joining the navy as they are to be asked out to the movies.

Tech-savvy youth's 24/7 use of cell phones has spurred the marketing use of SMS, or short messaging service, which lets mobile phone users transmit text messages quickly and cheaply. Cell phone subscribers will send about 400 billion text messages globally during 2002, up from 250 billion last year, according to the GSM Association. Person-to-person "texting" still accounts for most traffic, particularly among youth, but marketing applications are becoming more common.

"SMS is proving to be an excellent means of communicating brand values. This is because it is such a personal and direct medium," said Jonathan Linner, CEO of Enpocket, one of an increasing number of SMS marketing agencies in London. "The strength of an individual's relationship with their mobile phone is unique."

SMS is particularly hot in Asia, where mobile phone penetration is beginning to outstrip that of fixed-line phones and PCs in some markets.

"Asia is, in many ways, the great mobile part of the world," said Kent Wertime, regional partner based in Bangkok for WPP Group's Ogilvy Interactive. "It's a trendsetter in terms of importance and influence, and the interest of advertisers in SMS is very high right now. "

In China, for instance, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., partnered with Siemens to create a SMS contest for Coca-Cola Co. in July. Cell phone users were invited to guess the next day's temperature in Beijing; a correct guess could win a Siemens phone or a one-year supply of Coke.

Contestants who didn't win were invited to download Coke's jingle as a free ring tone. The result: 4 million messages were exchanged during the 40-day promotion; nearly 50,000 people downloaded the Coke jingle. Coca-Cola has already decided to repeat the contest next summer.

Several ad agencies have set up interactive divisions to handle SMS campaigns. Ogilvy & Mather, for instance, formed an alliance with TVC, a Singapore-based interactive marketing company, to offer interactive telephony marketing services, including SMS, to Ogilvy's clients in Asia.

SMS use in China more than tripled from 19 billion messages in 2001 to 60 billion this year, according to Pyramid Research, and is expected to grow as the number of mobile subscribers in the country climbs to 500 million by 2007.

China Mobile has even created a special mobile phone service called M-Zone in Shanghai, "tailor-made for youth who are crazy for SMS," said Cary Huang, planning director at WPP's MindShare, which handled media for M-Zone.

In 2001, SMS revenue from mobile service providers totaled $234 million and will hit $750 million this year. SMS projections for both advertising and personal use are enormous. "By 2007, SMS revenues in China will surpass $17 billion," predicted Connie Hsu, Pyramid's manager, Asia/Pacific. "China will generate greater SMS revenues than of all Western Europe combined."

A big obstacle in creating a successful SMS campaign, said Daniel Pipela, chairman of Hong Kong's Mobile Marketing Association, "usually are the telecom carriers.... Unless carriers are willing to opt in to a promotion, it won't work, because they are hesitant to give away phone numbers."

Unfortunately, carriers are not adept at putting together marketing plans. "They haven't done their homework profiling individuals, so promotions often come off as spam. This has caused a lot of backlash, particularly in the Philippines and Singapore," said Mr. Pipela. "Even telecom companies haven't figured out how to use it yet," said Mr. Wertime. "Too often, SMS is treated as mass medium rather than a personalized medium."

Costs vary depending on whether marketers send messages to consumers, or vice versa or both. "The cost to the client ranges from a few cents to 50 cents per customer, depending on numerous variables, such as whether an agency was involved for strategy and creative, carrier and third-party data costs, and the overall complexity of the campaign," Mr. Wertime said.

The two most successful forms of SMS marketing involve digital coupons and time- or event-based messages, which usually involve other forms of media and an intuitive process on the part of consumers, who opt-in voluntarily.

free beer

In Singapore, Asia Pacific Breweries did a SMS teaser campaign, created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide to promote Anchor Beer's new packaging and flavor. The agency invited potential customers via SMS to "have a beer on us." About 24% of recipients accepted the offer and were sent a secret serial number redeemable for a free beer at selected night spots.

With very different goals, Singapore's navy launched an SMS recruitment drive in 2001 aimed at 16- to 20-year-olds. Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi developed a battleship game that could be played against friends or a computer, using SMS technology. The package, sent to local tech students, generated a 14% response rate in 10 days.

To boost SMS usage in Taiwan, Burnett developed a campaign dubbed "King for a Week" for Chunghwa Telecom's emome brand. Each week, the person who sends the most SMS messages is treated like a king, his wishes fulfilled, filmed and aired on cable TV. The contest boosted the number of SMS messages sent by 10%, to more than 1 million a day.

Buzz was created in Singapore when people flipped open their phones to find friendly messages from God. Working for the evangelical Churches of the Love Singapore Movement, Ogilvy transmitted witticisms purportedly from God via SMS. On Friday afternoons, many Singaporeans received a message saying, "Thank me it's Friday. God."

next big thing

The next big thing, according to trend spotters, will be the leap from the simple text messages of most SMS marketing to MMS-multimedia messaging services-that will allow more complex transmissions.

In November, Nokia launched its 7210 handset in Hong Kong, letting users incorporate audio and video images with traditional text messages. The 7210 is really "a high-end fashion phone," admitted Jimmy Yu, Nokia's senior marketing manager, mobile phones, in Hong Kong.

An edgy 30-second spot for the handset by Cordiant Communications Group's Bates Worldwide is set at a bowling alley, mixing friends, urban night life and fashion. It's aimed at "socialholics" for whom the latest technology is a must-have, said Andrew Au Yeung, group account director, Bates, Hong Kong.

Such innovations are bringing a new sophistication to text message marketing. "The advent of MMS will add a whole new layer, a new phase," Mr. Wertime said.

contributing: ali qassim

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