finding text messaging is gr8 way to reach teens
Los Angeles Times
May 23, 2008
As she readied for
last night’s prom, Jamie McGraw asked her friends for
advice about hairstyles, shoes and a dress.
She also turned to her cellphone for a little help.
McGraw receives daily text messages from Seventeen
magazine about fashion, including tips about what to
wear to the prom. She planned to take the magazine’s
suggestion to wear a brightly colored outfit and be
prepared for “dress malfunctions.” “When the texts
recommend a certain look that sounds good, I will try it
out, but it doesn’t always mean buying something,” the
17-year-old Laguna Niguel resident said.
Yapping teens and phones have been inseparable for
decades. The difference today is that teens use their
cellphone for a lot more than just talking. It has
become a palm-size entertainment and information center
increasingly consuming their time and attention.
Advertisers are realizing that if they want to reach
teens, they need their number – literally.
“They’re not watching TV, you’re not reaching them in
other places,” said Andrew Miller, chief executive of
Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising network. “Mobile
is where they congregate.”
This year, shy escorts can buy (for 99 cents) a
preproduced video of a guy asking a girl to the prom
(“we’d take amazing prom pictures together”, he says)
and then send it via mobile phone to ask a girl out,
thanks to Venice-based Mogreet Inc. His nervous date can
visit the Cosmo Girl’s mobile phone site and look at the
prom section to find out how to say “No” to alcohol. And
she can go to PromGirl.com to download a widget that
lets her browse for prom dresses on her phone without
burning up valuable Internet minutes.
It may all seem a little bothersome, but teens don’t
mind receiving messages about products on their phones,
says Nic Covey, director of insights at research firm
Nielsen Mobile. Nielsen said teens were nearly twice
more likely than adults to trust and respond to
advertising and pitches on mobile phones.
“For them, responding to an ad that’s relevant by
sending a text or following a link on their phone is a
logical brand engagement,” Covey said. It’s so natural
that the student council at Notre Dame high school in
Sherman Oaks decided to invite teens to their graduation
via a prerecorded video sent over a mobile phone.
Not all teens are so readily accessible, of course.
Molly Nadeau, a senior at Fairfax High in Los Angeles,
loves the trendy and inexpensive fashions of Forever 21
Inc., but that doesn’t mean she wants to be inundated
with blurbs about its latest blouses or jewelry on her
“Once they have my number, I just think the ads would
come 24/7,” she said. “I wouldn’t want that.” That
wouldn’t make her father happy, Nadeau noted, since he
pays the phone bill and her plan doesn’t allow for
unlimited text messages.
Marketers claim they are sensitive to such resistance,
saying that’s why they craft the ads more in terms of
useful information teens would want to get on their
Hearst Magazines, for instance, has developed nine
different mobile sites across different magazines,
including Seventeen and Cosmo Girl. Cosmo Girl’s site
contains information on horoscopes, gossip, fashion,
career advice and beauty tips, alongside promotions from
retail giant J.C. Penney Co. and cosmetics maker
Clinique Laboratories. Teens can also send a text
message when they see a product they like in the
magazine and sometimes receive a free sample.
“We decided we needed to follow [the reader] with our
brands – wherever she is, we needed to be there with her
as a source of entertainment,” said Sophia Stuart,
director of mobile for Hearst Magazines Digital Media.
That means a prom section that gives girls advice on
date etiquette and fun things to do aside from drinking
and having sex. “We wanted to help her have a script and
be there if she needs our help,” Stuart said.
Other brands are messaging their way into teens’ phones
as well. Teens interested in Element Skateboards can
sign up for text message alerts when there are skate
events in their area, or when stores get new products.
Those who want to be in the know about clothing retailer
G by Guess can get text messages about sales and
“You have to take an active role in integrating a brand
into consumers’ lifestyles by being in their pockets,”
said Roman Tsunder, president of Access 360 Media Inc.,
which recently launched promotions for Guess Inc. and
Element that encouraged teens to sign up to get text
messages on their cellphones from the companies.
Teens don’t seem to mind the text messages they receive
from the retailers. Tsunder said only 4% of people who
sign up for the texts ask to stop getting them. And
Miller said 2% to 4% of those who see or receive ads on
mobile phones click on them to find out more
information. On the Internet via computers, so-called
click-through rates are generally closer to 0.01%.
Some teens do mind, however, if advertisers bug them too
overtly, said Alyson Hyder, media director for
California at Avenue A/Razorfish, a digital marketing
“They will be quick to turn on the backlash,” Hyder
said. That’s why “brands that target the teen audience
are looking at more authentic ways to insert themselves
into the conversation, as opposed to advertising.”
For a Nintendo Co. campaign, rather than send teens an
ad about a new Nintendo game, mobile-phone marketing
firm Hyperfactory published a brain teaser relating to
it in game magazines. Users sent a text message to get
the answer, and they received a message back with a link
to sign up for alerts about the game and download free
wallpaper and mobile games. The company declined to say
how many consumers participated.
When Kiwibox.com, an online teen magazine, launches a
service to send teens text messages with horoscopes and
celebrity alerts this year, they’ll include a short
advertisement at the end sponsored by different brands
such as Sparq Inc., a company that designs workout
training programs for aspiring athletes, and Paramount
But it can be a thin line between the type of product
pitches that teens will accept on their mobile phones
and those they won’t.
Quentin Brown, an 18-year-old high school senior from
Santa Monica, said he texted to vote during the National
Basketball Assn.’s slam-dunk competition at this year’s
All-Star game. In return, he received a flurry of text
messages with offers to buy jerseys and other
basketball-related stuff. He didn’t mind the texts for
the jerseys, since he’s interested in them and always
looking for deals. But he didn’t like getting ones about
things he didn’t care about, such as asking him to join
an NBA fantasy draft or go to NBA summer camp.
“They were kind of stalking me,” he said. “But then they
stopped and I was glad.”
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