Sounds far-fetched? Maybe, but the precedents already exist in another part of the world, namely Japan, which has constantly been described by various marketers as the blueprint for future marketing trends in the UK.
Whether such predictions will become reality on this side of the globe remains to be seen but there's little doubting that the mobile message is beginning to be heard. Coca-Cola and Cadbury are among the multi-national fmcg giants to have seized on the texting phenomenon, both having reported better than expected results from mobile campaigns which have seen millions of consumers interacting with their brands. In particular, text and win promotions have seen the overwhelming participation of a texting mad 15 to 30-year-old generation of consumers. What makes this all the more encouraging is that this group will make up tomorrow's middle-aged, higher salaried group of consumers. As one marketer puts it: "If we can tap into them with this kind of instant recognition, instant hit marketing then we'll be laughing in the future."
But what's in store? After all, it will take a little more than the promise of winning a free bar of chocolate or football shirt to turn on the vast majority of consumers in the future.
One company which claims to have the answers is London-based Flytxt which boasts a market-leading position in the world of wireless marketing and technology. Spokesman Pamir Gelenbe says: "With the text and win campaigns consumers have seen so far, we are probably only exploiting around 5% of the technological capability at our disposal."
Couponing to mobiles
Things to look out for in the "not too distant future", claims Gelenbe, include barcode couponing to consumers' mobiles, thereby offering shoppers instant access to best deals, such as half price goods during a limited period. To redeem their voucher they would simply have to walk into a store and have it swiped at the till. The UK could also have its first games offer from a major fmcg player "before the end of the year", says Gelenbe, giving consumers the chance to download a brand-based game onto their mobiles. "That is the sort of thing which could be an ideal fit for, say, a cereal manufacturer. Colour games could even include high resolution graphics of a brand's familiar iconic character."
Another capability would be to follow Japan's example where top selling items such as Coca-Cola are regularly bought from vending machines using a mobile phone. "The way it works," says Gelenbe, "is that a consumer uses his or her mobile to ask for a token, they then receive a two dimensional barcode which they swipe against the machine and then they get their drink."
Fancy stuff then! But, and Gelenbe is among the first to admit it, one problem Britain faces is that it remains several years behind Japan in the common ownership of the latest technology. Britain's third generation of mobiles, or 3G' as they are catchily titled, may have been launched amid much fanfare last month, but it will be some time before they are commonly owned.
However, there is a silver lining to this technological grey cloud. All the capabilities discussed above are already possible on the second generation of mobiles (picture and colour game compatible) which are now becoming increasingly commonplace. "At the moment, there are only around three million consumers out there who own second generation handsets which are capable of handling this sort of technology, but latest forecasts show that should rise to as many as 10 million by this Christmas," says Gelenbe.
But as consumers jump on the technological bandwagon, the economic benefits to the mobile marketing revolution could become quickly tangible. According to Flytxt, the mobile marketing industry is currrently worth a modest £50m in terms of revenue generated but this is predicted to jump to £1bn by 2010.
To put that figure in perspective, it means that marketing through mobile handsets could quickly become one of the most lucrative areas of advertising and promoting. According to figures from the Advertising Association, adverts in national newspapers generated revenue of just over £1.9bn last year, TV was worth £3.7bn, radio adverts generated £491m and almost £2.4bn was spent on direct mailings.
It is the latter which could lose out to mobile phone marketing to the greatest extent, with Flytxt estimating that the average mail shot costs a company about 50p, some 45p more than the average cost of a text message.
Perhaps more importantly, claims Gelenbe, is the fact that British marketers appear more open to the mobile phone revolution than anywhere else in Europe. "British companies are faster on the uptake on this than any other market in Europe," he says. "Moreover, British marketers are bigger risk takers than their European counterparts and texting has been taken up very quickly in the UK compared to other nations, such as Italy, where consumers still prefer to use their handsets for talking."
However, there is one word of warning for companies thinking that consumers may be prepared to be bombarded with marketing jargon by text. A spokesman for one manufacturer, which has already enjoyed the benefits of mobile marketing, tells The Grocer: "It was a great success in the one trial that we did, but we are aware this is still an unknown quantity. It may be that today's younger generation is keen on getting involved with texting promotions at the moment, but that doesn't mean the novelty won't wear off as they grow up. One danger could be that this becomes an irritation in the long run if people feel it is something they can't escape from."