Magazine publishers, tired of being lumped in with "old media," are embracing one of the newest media, mobile text messaging.
Thanks to a new technology from a New York firm called ShopText and eBay unit PayPal, consumers this holiday season have the option of buying and sampling some products with their cell phones.
Magazines like Details, CosmoGIRL!, Glamour and Brides are rolling out ads with short codes for text-to-buy transactions. ShopText also worked with Lucky magazine for a program in the publication's September issue.
Publishers aren't the only converts. Others include National CineMedia, which worked with ShopText on a promo for DVDs of the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth from Paramount Pictures; The Knitting Factory, owner of clubs in New York and Los Angeles, which plans to let consumers text-to-buy concert tickets in 2007; Procter & Gamble, which also has sampled its shampoo Pantene under a program with Glamour magazine; and Elizabeth Arden, which is rolling out a new Hilary Duff-branded perfume that can be bought via ShopText.
Such text-to-buy technology is in its infancy this holiday season. "In 2007, this is really going to explode," said Mark Kaplan, founder/ CMO of ShopText.
Not everyone is convinced. Dan Schatt, senior analyst with Celent, a Boston-based research firm, pointed out that the teen girls targeted by some of the campaigns might present some problems on the payment front. "They may not even have a credit card," he said. "Maybe they'll have a prepaid card, but there's going to be an issue."
Despite such potential pitfalls,publishers are bullish. Kristine Welker, vp/publisher of CosmoGIRL!, said she was inspired by Elizabeth Arden's 2005 campaign for the Britney Spears perfume Curious, which included mobile text messages from Spears.
"It was a great mobile campaign, but it stopped short of the ability to buy on the phone," said Welker. "Now we can go reader to reader to launch the Hilary Duff scent."
In the case of Details, another Condé Nast publication, the magazine will run sections in four issues next year that include a spread of products chosen by the editors along with codes that let users buy the items over their phones. Chris Mitchell, vp/publisher of Details, said the technology is the "Holy Grail" for magazines. Mitchell, a veteran of the publication Wired, pointed out that the industry has been trying to make magazines and newspapers more interactive for a decade or so with technologies like :CueCat, a service that relied on a barcode reading device which could be used to link magazine ads to a URL. Most dropped :CueCat by 2001, a year after it rolled out.
ShopText is the latest attempt to facilitate m-commerce via print ads, but not the only one. PayPal Mobile, a new service from the
e-commerce firm rolled out this year, lets users buy CDs and DVDs from MTV and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, among other suppliers.
Mobot, Boston, has worked with various magazines for programs that let users take a photo of an ad with their camera phone, which then directs them to a Web site where they can buy a product.
Condé Nast's bridal division, publisher of Brides, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride, among others, is working with ShopText for a promo next year that will let readers take a picture of an advertised product. They can then send the photo to a Web page which will recognize the image and link to a URL where they can buy it.
Mark Bees, Mobot's vp-marketing development, said the company doesn't yet let consumers buy products over the phone, but soon they will be able to, say, take a picture of a movie poster and then be able to buy tickets to see that film.
Laura Marriott, executive director of the Mobile Marketing Assn., said m-commerce's time has come. "Mobile users want the convenience of one-stop transactions from their device," she said.