Short Codes | Mobile Marketing | Common Short Code

Short Codes are the Answer to Mobile Marketing
In August 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign made history when it announced Joe Biden as vice president via SMS (text) messaging. The Nielsen Company estimates that about 2.9 million mobile phone users in the U.S. received the Biden text message, therefore making it one of the largest mobile marketing stunts to date.
The Biden text announcement is a great example of short code marketing – messages sent through a text message using a Common Short Code (CSC), or short code. A short code is simply just an abbreviated phone number used to send messages via SMS or MMS (picture) messaging. Today, short codes are used primarily for marketing news, products, and/or services.
As of Q3 2008, 203 million of the 263 million U.S. wireless subscribers paid for text messaging. The Nielson Company predicts that 57% of all mobile subscribers 13 years or older use text messaging on an every day basis. Text messaging has become so popular that U.S. mobile subscribers now send and receive more text messages in one month than they make phone calls. Table 1 below expresses the average number of monthly calls vs. monthly text messages among U.S. wireless subscribers.


Table 1

Avg. Number of Monthly Calls vs. Texts Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers

Year (Quarterly) Calls
Q1 2006 198 65
Q2 2006 216 79
Q3 2006 221 85
Q4 2006 213 108
Q1 2007 208 129
Q2 2007 228 172
Q3 2007 226 193
Q4 2007 213 218
Q1 2008 207 288
Q2 2008 204 357

Source: The Nielsen Company

Table 2

Avg. Number of Monthly Calls vs. Texts Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers

Age (Years) Calls Texts
All Subscribers 204 357
12 & Under 137 428
13-17 231 1742
18-24 265 790
25-34 239 331
35-44 223 236
45-54 193 128
55-64 145 38
65+ 99 14

Source: The Nielsen Company


Nielsen reported that mobile subscribers sent or received an average of 357 text messages per month compared with placing 204 phone calls in Q2 2008. That’s not to say that a good old fashioned phone call has become outdated. That average has stayed fairly consistent, averaging at about 216 calls per month. Text messaging, on the other hand, has increased 351%, from 79 texts per month to 357. (See Table 1)
Teenagers 13-17 years old average the greatest number of text messages sent/received at 1,742 texts per month in Q2 2008. Still, even the average U.S. mobile subscriber between 35 and 44 will now send/receive more text messages than make phone calls. (See Table 2)


Table 3

Latest Text Message Usage

Country Text Message Use
Russia 88%
Switzerland 85%
Italy 78%
Spain 76%
United Kingdom 76%
China 72%
France 71%
India 63%
Germany 60%
Brazil 60%
United States 57%
Canada 53%

Source: The Nielsen Company


Texting has become very popular in the U.S. and abroad. More than half the population across the world is sending and receiving text messages. Aside from this, there is still considerable growth to be made in the U.S. and Canada.
In the U.S., short codes are administered by the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA). When setting up, short codes usually cost about $3500 + development. Short codes can range from $500 per month with no vanity to $1000 per month with a vanity. A vanity code would be a selected text (62252, “O-B-A-M-A”). No vanity would entail a random five or six digit code.
In addition to acquiring a short code, marketers must also comply with short code guidelines administered by an organization called the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA).
The process of executing a short code marketing campaign is actually quite simple. A number of firms have allowed a marketer to engage the public 160 characters at a time, the general length limitation to a text message. For more information on whom to partner with and how to execute a short code marketing program, visit the CSCA website or the MMA’s Consumer Best Practice Guidelines.
As of Q3 2008, 1.1 million AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers were actively text messaging with Coca-Cola as part of their My Coke Rewards program. Through My Coke Rewards, Coca-Cola customers collect codes found on various Coca-Cola products and enter them into an account they’ve registered at Coca-Cola’s mobile users usually send/receive about 32 messages per month to Coca-Cola. But, most importantly, mobile marketing is not just for teens and 18-24 year olds. Nearly half (47%) of users were 35 or older. Overall, according to The Nielsen Company, 53% of those engaging with standard rate short codes are sent by texters 35 and older.
Coca-Cola is not the only company engaging in short code opportunities. In Carolina, a chain of Ashley Furniture Homestores wanted to strengthen sales. They sent 6,000 text message coupons to customers who showed interest in receiving information about special offers. The text message chain paid off. $85,000 of the $135,000 of sales was generated from the SMS coupon. Therefore, every dollar they spent in mobile marketing, they generated $122 in sales.
Ashley Furniture Homestores is not alone. Subway, Arby’s, Jiffy Lube, BestBuy, Papa Johns, Village Inn, and other major brands have also participated in short codes mobile marketing. In the future, Nielsen predicts more and more companies will turn to text messaging as a means of mobile marketing.
Short codes are also changing the way we engage with traditional media. TV programs and radio stations are becoming more interactive via text messaging. American Idol, one of America’s most watched and anticipated television show, allows its viewers to vote for contestants, play along at home, or get additional information via SMS. All around the country, local radio stations are increasing their short code efforts. In Q3 2008, more than two dozen local radio stations attracted large enough SMS audiences to appear in Nielsen’s national messaging report.
With texting becoming an everyday activity, how do consumers feel about talking to companies the same way they talk to friends and family? According to Nielsen’s Q2 2008 Mobile Advertising Report, 16% of text messagers in the U.S. see some form of text message advertising every month. Teens are the most likely to engage with some form of short code marketing – 35% of teen texters say they see some form of text message advertisement every month.  African-American and Hispanic mobile subscribers don’t fall far behind. They are more likely to engage in some form of mobile marketing. Of those who have seen an advertisement via text message, 45% say they have responded. Among mobile subscribers who saw ant form of mobile advertising in Q2 2008, 25% say they responded at least once by sending another text message – emphasizing the interactivity this medium presents.
Table 4

Recall of Any Text Message Advertising Among Texters

Age/Ethnicity Recall Any Text Ad
All Subscribers 16%
Ages 13-17 35%
Ages 18-24 18%
Ages 25-34 16%
Ages 35-54 12%
Ages 55+ 10%
White 13%
Hispanic 23%
African-American 24%
Asian/Pacific Islander 20%

Source: The Nielsen Company


As text messaging further expands, so will the opportunity to engage with customers via short codes. Today, consumers open every text message they receive. For marketers, that presents many opportunities. Marketers should look at SMS messaging as an opportunity to engage with a core customer base to help promote their industry.
Brittany Bentz is a Marketing Intern at Advanced Telecom Services. As you know from reading this article, the average teen sends 1,742 text messages per month. Last month, Brittany at least tripled this number.

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