Consumers have never been so happy to use their mobile phones to respond to ads, competitions or request product information. But despite this, advertisers have been slow to come round to the idea of offering coupons and vouchers via mobiles that can be redeemed in store.
The paper coupon market in the UK is worth £8bn per year and the gift voucher segment is worth an additional £3bn. The mobile marketing industry believes there is significant potential for advertisers in mobile vouches.
“It [mobile promotions] is where we are going,” says Matt Lower, account director at brand experience agency Smartfusion. “More big brands are starting to see the power of integrating mobile elements into a campaign and spreading their reach away from fixed locations.”
When Wednesdays go Orange
The most high profile example of a mobile redemption scheme is Orange Wednesdays, which was developed with mobile marketing technology agency Flytxt and launched in March 2004. The scheme offers Orange customers two cinema tickets for the price of one every Wednesday. Customers have to text Orange to request a voucher, a code – that has to be given to cashiers at participating cinemas – is then sent back to them by SMS. In its first year, the scheme processed 6 million requests.
However, the success of Orange Wednesdays has not acted as a catalyst for other brands. Tim Carrigan, chairman of mobile marketing technology company TXT4, points out that there are still some barriers that prohibit some advertisers from getting involved, such as cost. “It would be lovely to send customers something to redeem but the reality of that is more difficult. For example, there are hundreds of handsets and each one represents a voucher in a different way,” he says. “There was a huge investment in installing the equipment and training staff behind Orange Wednesdays and it is still relatively niche. The number of cinemas involved is small compared to how many outlets some retailers have.”
He adds that this is why SMS is still mainly being used as the direct response element of wider brand campaigns. For example, shortcodes – the shorter text numbers – work well with outdoor campaigns and are increasingly used on posters. By encouraging users to text in, advertisers can open a dialogue with the consumer that will drive them through to a WAP site. They can also collect data on who is responding and to which creative work and poster site by asking users to text a key word.
Some brands such as the BBC’s Radio 1 have also been experimenting with bluetooth as a way of engaging younger consumers. At the Chart Show Live gig in November last year, the broadcaster worked with Smartfusion to offer the audience exclusive content, such as images and audio, via bluetooth. It also encouraged them to visit its WAP site. To ensure the audience knew that it was available, messages were shown throughout the venue telling them to switch on their bluetooth if they were interested.
Some industry observers remain sceptical about the long-term success of offering content, information or vouchers using bluetooth. Lower admits that it is more popular among text-savvy youth audiences but other industry sources dismiss it as “faddish”.
Jeremy Bygraves, managing director of SMS marketing agency Mediaburst, explains: “Brands need to be careful not to use technology for the sake of it. This kind of campaign needs to suit the target consumer and add value. Bluetooth is bleeding edge technology for early adopters rather than big brands.”
However, the industry is on the cusp of moving into the next stage of mobile promotions. Smartfusion worked with Nokia and promoter Live Nation to create Ticket Rush, a last minute ticketing WAP site that operated using simple SMS. Last summer, the service was extended so users could purchase via their mobile phones and redeem tickets. Stewards at the gigs had barcode scanners that allowed them to verify the tickets. It is claimed to be the first mobile-ticketed gig.
The ability to scan and photograph one and two-dimensional barcodes, which can appear on posters or press ads, is also expected to give a major boost to promotions by helping retailers overcome the problem of installing expensive reading equipment.
Camera phones can act as two-dimensional barcode readers, which then opens a hyperlink on the phone, but can also take images of one-dimensional barcodes that can be read on existing EPoS systems or used with chip and pin devices. The use of two-dimensional barcodes is already advanced in Japan and Korea and, according to World Forum Research, 70% of consumers in the US and Europe will be using them by 2009.
Mobile marketing could also gain a major boost with the impending launch of Blyk, a virtual mobile operator network that will offer free calls and texts to users willing to accept advertising through their handsets. Users will receive free minutes in return for filling in details about their spending habits and planned purchases on the Blyk website. They will also be sent advertising. This should allow brands to target users with promotions and redeemable vouchers at a time when they are ready to make a purchase.
Anuj Khanna, head of marketing at Tanla Mobile, believes that Blyk will have a “dramatic impact” on mobile promotions. “The user opts in for ads and these should be specifically tailored to them.”
Younger consumers are expected to be the first demographic to accept vouchers on their mobiles but Khanna does not believe it will be limited to them: “Ideally, we want everyone to use it but that won’t happen until it is much easier to use.”