Marketers increase dependence on SMS advertising

MUMBAI: The ubiquitous and inexpensive short messaging system is firing the imagination of advertisers. SMS based services have progressed to the next frontier beyond merely providing infotainment and are emerging as an attractive advertising medium as well as a powerful tool to launch contests and promotions.

Ad experts feel it gives brand experience a totally different facet, by adding instant interactivity to the package. Former Lintas boss and advertising and marketing guru Alyque Padamsee feels that SMS can put television and the Internet in the shade. He says: "The multipurpose interconnectivity-oriented medium of SMS will present multitudinous opportunities for ad agencies in 2003. It is sad that ad agencies haven't able to leverage the SMS medium as much as they could have done."

The Entertainment Network India (The Times of India group) owned indiatimes launched its SMS based service 8888 in March 2002. Officials claim that the number of messages have crossed the 1.1 million a day at present; and still growing at a healthy 15 per cent a month.

Similar services have been started by prominent among media broadcasters, publishing houses and websites such as Living Media, NDTV, Radio Mid Day, MSN and Rediff. Many of these are news, feedback, or e-mail driven, while some like Aaj Tak (Living Media) have also used their service for launching programming related contests.

Be it the telly, the newspapers, magazines, cinema, cricket, the SMS based contests have gained in currency to push products and brands across the board. News, dating, jokes, astro, ring tone downloads and contests seem to be the top revenue earners.

The SMS traffic for the leading cellular operators has jumped to an average of about four million messages a day, from the earlier average of 7,00,000 to 8,00,000. Bharti Enterprises director, marketing and corporate communications, Hemant Sachdev, "Potentially, the Indian consumer has not been exposed to the entire gamut of entertainment opportunities. Effective usage could increase the ARPU (average revenue per user) substantially.

Sachdev states: "Wireless data (SMS, SMS-based data, helplines, m-banking, value-added features such as fun messages, cricket updates, astrology, infotainment, entertainment, stock updates, music downloads, ring-tones and logos) would eventually outstrip the traditional voice-based services. A tremendous growth of pace will be soon witnessed in value-added mobile phone services such as anonymous SMS; encrypted SMS; Lotto and sweepstakes; crazy ring-tones (animal sounds); personalised logos and word logos; Wassup happenings around the locality; dream analysis, astrology, predictions, compatibility and others."

Marketing consultants are also bullish about the medium. “We recommend to our clients quite regularly to go for a sustained SMS based campaign among other things because there is no clutter in the medium right now. It is a virgin medium and evolving. Within two years, it will become part of everybody’s media plan. Ad agencies ought to look at it as supplementary to the conventional media,” says Mumbai based Samsika Marketing Consultants managing director Jagdeep Kapoor in a medianet release.

A medianet release also says that Indiatimes 8888 played an important role in ITC’s launch of snack product Bischips. It was the first brand to use mobile messaging platform of Indiatimes which marked a break from traditional advertising to target young individuals. Since ITC was eyeing the 15-25 year age group as the target audience, SMS based promotion fitted even better in the game plan. The key brand activities in recent months have involved names such as Levis, Temptations, Kwality Walls, Close Up Lemon, Mountain Dew, Blaupaunkt, Marico and Mcdowell.

Experts also feel that the key is to fuse content service with domain specialisation who knew exactly how to package and deliver the service.

“An advantage, which appeals strongly to advertisers about 8888, is that it enables them as well as consumers to communicate on one platform. In fact, consumers can now be inspired to participate in brand promotions, rather than being a target of one,” says Times Internet chief executive officer Mahendra Swarup.

For example, the fraternity acknowledges that the biggest SMS hit was scored during the cricket World Cup earlier this year in form of the Predikta contest with SET MAX!

Television channels had realised quite some time back that promotions based purely on unconventional media like SMS and FM can also get tremendous mileage to the individual programmes. “That explains the success of promotions we have had with programmes like Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai, Friends and Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai,” points out Swarup.

Star TV recently launched an exercise heavily dependent on SMS for viewers to identify their favourite TV artistes in the recently held Star Parivar event where viewers rated their favouritebahus (daughters in law), saas (the moms-in-law), the vamps et al. Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea claims that one million votes logged in the 15 days that the polling ran.

Well, if you cannot beat them, then join them!

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