Text pistols: Marketers aim for Aspen X Games crowd
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” Marketing is entering a whole new world: your phone screen.
This was apparent at the Winter X Games in Aspen, where brands ranging from ESPN to Snowmass Village were doing their best to collect phone numbers and consumers who text and receive.
This year, attendees could text in for a free ringtone from Jeep. They could text in to win free tickets to Chili Pepper and Brew Fest from Snowmass Village, free VIP tickets to the Winter X Games from KSPN, or a free snowboard from Aspen Skiing Co. They could text in to vote for their favorite athletes in viewer-judged contests. They could text in for a free sundae from The Sweet Life. They could text in a “shout out” to appear on the Jumbotron. They could text in a music request.
And now those marketing departments will be texting back.
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But Dave Elkan, manager of sponsorship and events for Snowmass Village, insists Snowmass Village, for one, won’t be sending advertising. Instead, they’ll be trying to send information people might care about ” the lineup to Chili Pepper and Brew Fest before it’s released to the media, for example, or an update whenever Snowmass receives 6 inches of snow or more.
“You’re kind of a VIP,” Elkan said. “You get to know the information before anyone else does.”
Margaret Campbell, associate professor of marketing at the University of Colorado, agreed that text messaging, along with social networking, is the most popular rising form of marketing in the United States. She added that the United States is well behind Japan and Europe in this regard.
But she thought it was too early to tell if it would become as successful as marketing departments hope.
“The real proof of the pudding will be in how faithful marketers remain to the idea of only providing desired information at desired times,” she said.
But Timothy Katz, manager of marketing and brand development at ESPN, said he thinks text message marketing will have staying power in this “I want information now” world. He called ESPN’s strategy a “nearest screen available” approach.
“We’re trying to get to whatever the nearest device people have is and give them information as quickly as possible,” he said.
That, of course, is a huge piece of the cell phone’s lure: its ubiquitous and instantaneous nature.
“There is a box you have to work in,” said Elkan, who pointed out there is no room in the medium for anything complex. “But it’s instantaneous.”
And so far, most text messages reach their intended audience. People open marketing e-mails less than 2 percent of the time, said Casey McConnell, chief executive officer at Qittle, an Aspen-based text-message marketing company. They open text messages about 90 percent of the time, he said.
“Have you ever gotten a text you didn’t open?” he asked.
But while Campbell acknowledged that success rates are good right now for “the small number of people who have opted in,” she pointed out that e-mail marketing had strong success rates at first, too.
For now, text message marketing is primarily aimed at an under-35 demographic, likely the reason it was so popular at the X Games. For many in that demographic, texting is their primary form of communication, McConnell said.
According to ESPN’s statistics, that demographic is willing to build relationships with brands via cell phones. Roughly 100,000 people voted in Thursday night’s Snowboard Big Air competition, said Katz ” and of those, “a very high number” opted in to continue to receive ESPN updates.
Attendee Ryan Byers, 22, of Spokane, Wash., who voted by text in the competition, explained that ESPN is a brand he wants to receive information from.
“ESPN’s bad-ass,” he said. “I love everything about it.”
But the over-35 crowd may be on board sooner than later. McConnell talked about one of his employees, home for the holidays, who tried to explain Qittle to her Aunt Jennie.
Aunt Jennie stopped her, said McConnell, and told her she was already receiving J.C. Penny’s specials by text.
“It has to be their stores, their brand doing it, and they will opt in for those specials,” McConnell said.
As for where marketers will be in next year’s Winter X Games, the ESPN experts said that they will let the Winter X Games attendees ” who tend to be early adopters of technology ” lead the way, and they’ll follow.
But for now, say experts, there is a clear trend toward highly targeted, opt-in marketing.
“The days of buying a TV spot and you’re hitting all sorts of audiences is really going by the wayside,” Katz said.
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