The service, now available from Houston-based WHAMtext, allows students to text-message coupon requests to 469426, or shortcode GoWHAM. The business name and college campus code, or zip code, are required in the body of the text message to receive a reply with a discount coupon, complete with tracking number, expiration date, address to nearest participating business, and the amount of a specific item discounted.
To cash in, the student shows the coupon on the cell phone screen to the cashier at checkout. Advocates say electronic coupons are ecologically friendly and easier to use than remembering to clip newspaper ads.
Unlike print coupons that have fixed pricing and promotions, advertisers can alter the price and special on the coupon at any time by going online to change the discounts and offers, says Jeff Lerner, WHAMtext's vice president/sales and marketing.
Four days and two schools into launch, nearly 1,000 coupons have been texted to students. In the next two weeks, students at Oklahoma State University, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, Texas A&M University, the University of Oklahoma, Louisiana State, and the University of Missouri will have an option to use the service.
Papa John's Pizza in Stillwater, Okla. was one of the first businesses to offer the service through WHAMtext. "Quite frankly, I thought it was a stupid idea at first, but I'm trying the service, and it's really cool," explains Tim Leiker, co-owner of Papa John's Pizza in both Stillwater and Eden, Okla. "The service sends a coupon for one of our medium one-topping pizzas for $6.33 right to your phone."
And if a student sends a text message asking for a coupon from a company that doesn't subscribe to the service, WHAMtext replies with a discount offer from an advertiser in that same product category. That's Leiker's favorite benefit from the service.
In an area where, for example, Subway doesn't advertise, the technology might return a Quiznos or a Schlotzsky's coupon. This way, the participating advertisers have a chance to target someone who is hungry for their type of products in hopes they will try something else.
While text message coupons are a no-brainier for today's tech-savvy college students, more importantly, these budding consumers have begun to experiment with brand relationships independent from their parents. Plus, colleges have predictable schedules. They start in autumn. Most follow a football season.
"Predictability makes it easy to drive foot traffic with coupon promotions," says John du Pre Gauntt, senior analyst for wireless at eMarketer. "College students are sophisticated enough to introduce financial and travel services, too, and there's a host of companies ready to start a relationship with consumers who want to step out into an adult world."
WHAMtext plans to take the text-message coupon service a step further by developing a promotion around sports. Lerner says it's too early to provide concrete details, but the service could promote and market any entertainment event with interactive marketing messages. The service works across all carriers, including AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel or Verizon Wireless.