Texting Trumps Talking in U.S., Just Not as Ad Platform

Marketers Have Tried, but Not Succeeded, in Cracking the Conversation

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Somewhere along the line, texting has replaced talking. But will marketers be able to get in on the conversation?

Between July 2008 and July 2009, mobile users in the U.S. sent more than 1.3 trillion text messages, almost double the 660 billion calls they made, according to CTIA -- the Wireless Association. Yet advertisers are still struggling with how to use texting for marketing.

It's not that marketers haven't tried to use texting as an ad platform -- many have. They just haven't seemed to figure out how to use it effectively. But a look at the usage statistics makes it clear that marketers need to sort it out fast.

A December 2009 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 68% of cellphone owners 18 and older send text messages. A deeper dive reveals the biggest texters to be 18- to 24-year-olds (95%). And while that stat shouldn't floor anyone, what may surprise is just how many people are texting within the older sets, including 25- to 34-year-olds (87%); 35-44 (74%); 45-54 (69%); 55-64 (43%) and 65-plus (20%).

Despite the frequency of usage, establishing texting as an effective ad medium continues to be challenging for marketers because text messaging is very much a permission-based channel of communication. And as John Walls, VP-public affairs at CTIA, points out, of all the electronic devices and pieces of technology consumers have in their lives, cellphones are the most personal.

"It's the only medium we have with us every hour of the day and marketers have to be respectful of that," Mr. Walls said. "If they provide consumers with that choice of how they want to interact and can establish that permission, mobile will gives marketers a golden opportunity to market to the warmest of audiences in the most personal way possible."

But even among the most avid texters, receiving ads via text message is unwelcome. A recent study of college students by WPP's Mindshare found that while texting trumps face-to-face communication in the demographic as the preferred method of conversation, a vast majority (76%) of those surveyed said they do not like to receive ads by text message.

Debbie Solomon, managing director-business planning at Mindshare, said the use of mobile phones as an ad medium is still evolving, but marketers should start experimenting with it now.

"It's always good to get into a media channel while it's still new and evolving," she said. "When you're a first mover you get a chance to learn things from the mistakes you make and successes that you have."

Michael Becker, North America managing director for the Mobile Marketing Association, said marketers must need to think of texting as an interactive medium and not a "one-way" conversation. He said marketers should encourage a reply that will generate conversation. "Each interaction allows a marketer to learn more about the consumer, what they want and need and the value you can deliver to them," Mr. Becker said.

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