Program The Boredom Channel

by , Dec 11, 2007, 12:15 PM
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This is the time of year when a cell phone is the only thing standing between me and collapsing into a fetal position in the middle of Macy's in a kind of synaptic meltdown. I know that shopping is a sport to many Americans, but to me holiday gift-hunting is my family's annual revenge for whatever sins I must have committed against them throughout the year. Scanning the watch cases, the perfumes, the robes, the blouses, and the CD racks answering the unanswerable questions "What do you think your mother will like?" brings on an impatience that is akin to road rage. I am still catching up with Christmases past when it comes to my mother's taste, anyway. Do they still sell White Linen? Doesn't that cute Engelbert Humperdinck have a holiday album out? Tom Jones? I always opt for a bottle of Chanel No. 5 in the end, anyway. It is the default "prestige" gift that shouts out to women that the men in their lives are just not paying close attention.

The cell phone has become the boredom killer that makes these excursions bearable. In fact, I would love to see stores and all venues pick up a cue from sports and concert arenas and engage visitor boredom with an alternative channel of programming. They have couches (and now TVs and magazines) outside fitting rooms that clearly are targeted at bored male shopping slaves. I see these guys. I am with these guys. We are all flipping our phones every three minutes hoping some thing new popped up in email. Why not formalize this tacit understanding that half the occupants of your store don't want to be there, and use their cell phones to entertain them?

I will expand on that. I think any venue in America should assume that half of the people in their store, mall, or event came there voluntarily and the other half does not want to be there. Why let the Verizons and Sprints or future mobile TV vendors get the attention of the reluctant half with global programming -- when you could be counterprogramming our boredom with local, immediately relevant content? We've covered here before how exciting and effective in-venue mobile marketing can be. Just about every mobile marketing agency has some form of text-to-screen technology that can be used in clubs, at concerts, and at sports events. The sports world offers a unique place to engage audiences because of the nature of game viewing. There is a lot of boring space between the exciting moments at sporting events, although adrenaline is high. I have seen loads of case studies involving game audiences engaging an SMS prompt from the scoreboard that pulls them into mobile trivia contests that can pile up 20 or 30 message exchanges. Finding new and interesting ways to link that communications channel with the rest of in-venue marketing is opening up opportunities already.

Fan Text Mobile is a neat little company that has a captive audience in minor league baseball fans. The company secured promotional deals with all the Triple-A and Double-A teams in 55 major U.S. markets, which gives them a potential audience pool of 20 million for the season. Text-to-win and other promotional prompts on behalf of a sponsor can get up to 7% of a crowd to enter, but once they have them hooked, up to 87% opt into becoming club members for the team and receive regular text updates that continue the relationship. One of the nice things about this model is that the text updates are not canned, templated messages -- but actually come from the teams' own marketing departments.

CEO John Cowie tells me that after a season and a half in the market, Fan Text Mobile has about 100,000 members. One Dunkin Donuts promotion at an event had a WAP push to a coupon page that enjoyed a 13% redemption rate. Many of these promotions involve local owners of national franchises. As every interactive marketer knows, getting the local ad market into the digital mix has been a long, slow process for Yahoo, Google, and phone directory brands. Many local merchants already tie themselves in with local sporting events like minor league ball, so offering a mobile extension to their in-park signage campaign is a novel double play that could pull more local advertising into digital.

I think any attempt to leverage fan passions for teams or even for merchants at the local level is a promising idea for mobile. If mobile is personal, then it follows that it is also local. Obviously, national media and merchant brands will be the first to test the waters of mobile, but I think in the long run the fact that the device is location-sensitive and intimate make it the proper platform for engaging and deepening relationships with the media and the merchants that are near at hand.

Of course, I am greedy when it comes to media, so I want it to go further. I would like to see full-bore parallel programming at live events and in shopping venues. The scoreboard has already become a second screen at sporting events, and the PA system is a voiceover track. We might explore how the phone becomes another more personalized channel of information. Why not let users opt into multiple text messages relating to a given team or a player at the start of a game, and send them timely and relevant trivia throughout the span of the game? It could be the sort of real-time parallel programming that Bravo has offered with some of its realty TV shows, where you subscribe to specific characters who talk to you in SMS messages during the program. If we really want the mobile channel to engage people as a media platform, then we have to fill it with unique content that leverages the moment and the location.

For all the overstimulation we get in consumer-driven America, -- and perhaps because of it -- there still is a big, fat empty chunk of bandwidth waiting to be exploited by a mobile medium that is always there: the boredom channel. If local venues start effectively filling it, they may prove more relevant and interesting than all the national media that is rushing onto the deck.

And perhaps local marketers will get their chance to expand my gift-giving horizons a bit. Anyone know where I can get Chanel No. 5 wholesale by the case?

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