American Marketer


SMS: The new global marketing phenomenon

March 30, 2012


By Llew Claasen

When you consider how long the human race has been marketing its products – from the days of old when vendors used to sing their products' praises in town squares – to the sophisticated methods used by the top advertising and marketing agencies today, you think we would have perfected our marketing techniques.

You would think that as marketers we would know what works. You think we would be resting on our laurels knowing exactly what we have to do to get the customer or business to buy our products and services.

Well, you would be wrong.

The customers of 2012 are not the same as those of 2009 and they bear no resemblance to those of 2000.

The recent global economic crisis, combined with rising consumerism and increased access to mobile communication channels and social networking, has shifted values and beliefs.

Customers are more astute, less trusting, have greater levels of skepticism and are less likely to believe anything that is communicated through traditional advertising media.

Traditional marketing mediums are yesterday’s news
In the words of Craig Davis, worldwide CEO of WPP Group PLC ad agency JWT, “Audiences everywhere are tough, they don’t have time to be bored or browbeaten by orthodox, old-fashioned advertising.”

And you can see the results.

Today, 86 percent of consumers skip television ads, there is a 46 percent decline in tech trade show spending and 44 percent of direct mail is never opened, according to The Guardian.

It is clear the marketing mediums of old are in decline, but what is taking their place?

Well, you will not have to look far to find it. It is the mobile phone.

Mobile phones are now a must-have
Microsoft Tag recently published a report that shows that mobile continues to blow every other media channel out of the water in terms of growth.

In looking at the change in advertising spend between 2009 and 2010, mobile topped the list at 75 percent overall, followed by social media at 32 percent, online advertising at 14 percent, TV at 11 percent, radio at 9 percent, outdoor advertising at 2 percent and magazines at 1 percent.

Newspaper advertising was the only medium that showed a decrease in ad spend, falling 7 percent between 2009 and 2010.

At the end of 2010 Nielsen reported that 71 percent of the global population, or 5.3 billion people, owned a mobile phone.

In contrast, according to The Economist magazine, only 2 billion people were connected to the Internet at the end of 2010. Wireless Intelligence predicts that by the end of 2012, more than 6 billion mobile handsets will be in use.

Today, people rarely go out without their mobile phone. Even at home, it is usually within arm’s reach.

A recent Pew Research Center Study from 2010 reported that more than four out of five young adults sleep with their phone on or near bed and “many expressed reluctance to ever turn their phones off.”

Marketers have been quick to take advantage of the combination of the mobile phone’s must-have status and the Short Message Service (SMS).

SMS takes the lead
At the recent MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) Forum in Singapore, Gavin Mehrotra, director of international media for Coca-Cola Co., started his presentation stating categorically that: "SMS is the No. 1 priority in mobile at Coca-Cola. "

Whereas other forms of electronic communication can take a while to reach their destination, SMS can reach its recipient and be read within five seconds of being sent.

Besides its immediacy SMS offers marketers a number of other key advantages.

SMS messages can be responded to, enabling a real-time dialogue between marketers and their audience, irrespective of where in the world the audience is.

SMS messages can also be informed by the customer record, ensuring that the customer only receives information that is relevant to his or her location, requirement and situation. At only 160 characters long, SMS messages are also easy to read.

With all of this going for SMS, it was not a great surprise when recent Portio Research suggested that the global SMS text messaging market is expected to grow from $150 billion in 2009 to $233 billion by the end of 2014.

Llew Claasen is vice president of marketing at Clickatell, Redwood City, CA. Reach him at