Be The Platform

"Dad, you have how many Borders Books coupons on your phone?" my daughter says with profound disbelief as she rifles through the SMS threads on my iPhone.

Someday, some scientist will discover the special node that teen girls have in their vocal chords that registers disgust so effectively with a single puff. The problem for Dads is that we don't have this teen throat anomaly. When I try to respond in kind I sound like Don Pardo imitating an '80s Valley girl. Even I don't' know what planet I am from when I do this.

"Well Yahh! Dudetress [I am starting to descend into Diablo Cody, now], how else can I afford all those overpriced manga books I buy you? And anyway, teen spawn, the coupons are a righteous use of mobile media that is tuned to my needs."

"Don't talk that way, Dad. It's creepy."

Creepy, yes, but still true. In fact, Borders is making my life easier with these coupons, which ordinarily I have to print from their regular emails and remember to bring to the store. Instead, the email I get every week or so is in synch with a coupon showing up in my phone, so I know I will have the latest discount code on me all the time.



This is good but not good enough. One of the brands targeted to my daughter, Urban Outfitters, has taken the SMS club to a better level. Borders gets brand love from me because it is leveraging mobile perfectly for my obsessive book buying habits. Urban Outfitters is expanding the basic text coupon and alert service into a media network of a sort.

Working with Kikucall since last summer, the clothing store brand started with a simple text alert service, "UO TXT." It seems like a simple little move, but by giving the service its own brand, UO positions this as more than another SMS alert. In fact, the brand is allying itself with the mobile platform. "It is not traditional advertising," says Kikucall CEO Brian Hecht. "It protects the underground brand."

What is interesting about UO TXT is the media mix it is pushing into the SMS channel. Members can get notices about bands and labels with whom UO has partnered, or the retailer uses its connections in music to offer a free ringtone download. There are text polls and slogan contests as well as the standard coupons. "We are finding that a thoughtful mix of useful content, commerce and activity is much more compelling than just coupons and offers," says Hecht. And of course the messages from UO TXT wisely use the shorthand of SMSers as a way to jack into the conversational style of the channel.

Over time, the brand is not just using the platform but actually becomes identified with the platform. In the early Web days, brands were on the Web to get the cool factor. Some of that is true here, but mobile has a different and even more valuable cachet than the Web. This is the device that teens use to connect with one another secretly. My daughter texts her boyfriend while driving with me and the fiancé, no doubt doing the SMS equivalent of the eye roll every time we have another oh so painfully banal exchange. When a brand can move beyond simply being on mobile to being of mobile, then it is doing something. It is working within the channels of intimate relationships a user identifies with the phone.

Speaking of relationships, the next time this Dad opens up his text inbox he gets a surprise. "Why were you using my phone to message your boyfriend?" I ask.

"My phone died. I was bored. You always tell me to test your phones. I am your little focus group of one, remember?"

Do I even want to know what they say to each other in SMS exchanges? "Stop doing that," I warn her. "It is creepier than me imitating you."

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