The next time you hear your mobile beep a text message alert from a number not in your address book, it could well be an advertisement for the latest gadget or real estate project. We might be more used to seeing companies advertise their products in newspapers, on the radio or on roadside billboards, but text (SMS) message advertising is emerging as a more direct way for firms to get their brand into the minds of unsuspecting consumers – in more ways than one.
Whether they be real estate, shop sales or bank loan offers, it seems nothing is immune from this high-tech wave of free publicity.
And while many consumers may not like being bombarded day and night by their mobile constantly beeping with the latest deal, the organisations sending them feel it is now a necessary part of promoting their products and services, in the same way taking out a full-page magazine or newspaper advertisement was.
For Greg Dufton, events and marketing manager at nightclub Chi, jumping on this new advertising bandwagon is vital to stay ahead of the game, although he accepts some people may find it annoying.
"I ran a venue in the United Kingdom and was one of the very few people who did it [SMS advertising] there but since I've been in Dubai text message advertising has become a key way of marketing. If we didn't do it we would fall behind the competition. So if they are doing it we have no choice," he says.
He also uses the Dubai Night Planner database to target his intended audience and get the best value for money. He sends messages out on a weekly basis to drum up interest for the forthcoming weekend's events.
"It costs about 50 fils per text, so it's much cheaper than a magazine advert, which costs between Dh7,000 and Dh10,000. But texts also allow us to target more specific groups, such as people who like a particular type of music, so we don't bombard everyone," he says. This is key for marketing departments, who have to ensure maximum exposure at minimum cost, says Rayan Karaky, Media Director at Starcom, a fact Mohammed Al Falasi, the Head of Channels at Emirates NBD, agrees with.
Al Falasi says: "SMS is an effective tool that provides maximum reach to customers with guaranteed visibility. It is also considerably cost-effective."
Despite this, Karaky would prefer to see companies thinking outside the box rather than bombarding people with texts.
Karaky says: "I wouldn't recommend it, unless companies use a controlled database, so they are using it as a loyalty initiative rather than targeting people who have never heard of them before."
Targeting the right customers is vital for this specific type of advertising to work. When text message ads are sent out indiscriminately, many consumers admit to immediately deleting them, without first reading them. This, of course, begs begs the question of exactly why businesses do it. For Emirates NBD, it seems that, despite the annoyance of some, mobile phone advertising is an excellent publicity device.
"This is a very effective medium compared to other marketing tools, and has resulted in a significant number of leads for our products," Al Falasi says.
But Karaky would argue against this, and as a consumer he is particularly disgruntled when messages come through at 2am. If companies insist on doing it, they have to aim at the right audience, he says.
The fact we are now living in an age where increasingly fewer people are choosing print media, in favour of new media, to keep up to date with the world has prompted many advertising executives to divert their attention to appeal to different audiences.
It is also much more appealing to the younger generation who refuse to be parted with their mobiles. With time being precious, there are also fewer people reading a newspaper every day than ever before, yet mobile phone sales are soaring, meaning there is a growing exposure market for advertisers using text messages.
However, since different groups respond to different mediums, Karaky believes it needs to be more targeted.
"Text messages lack credibility because it shows that companies are not capable of building a brand so they have to use this cheap message system to raise awareness instead. A lot of Arabs interact via SMS as is evident on game shows and music channels, which are flooded with messages, but they are becoming more of an annoyance. In New York, it has reached the point where they are considered an invasion of privacy, which is something all companies should take into consideration," he says.
This is an issue that Nicolas Chidiac, strategic planner at multinational advertising agency Leo Burnett, has also picked up on. He says it is offensive to invade a person's space in the way text messages do.
While Chi's Dufton mainly targets customers who have visited Chi and filled in forms with their details, Chidiac finds this is a rarity and disagrees with the current trend of companies buying and selling consumer details. "Many companies treat the data unprofessionally and sell it to anyone and everyone. It's effectively spam and because of this it's mostly irrelevant to the people receiving it," he says. Instead, Chidiac would like to see more companies making use of the next generation tools telecom operators etisalat and du allow on their networks, which will not only market a product but also provide entertainment to consumers.
"Sending multimedia messages would be more engaging.. They could also be used to deliver traffic updates or movie trailers, which might still be considered an invasion of space, but at least consumers are getting something in return," he says.
This might seem like a good idea, but until more people invest in phones capable of receiving such information, it is not the most cost-effective solution for businesses looking to create publicity.
And the bottom line for Dufton and his counterparts is their belief that consumers are much more likely to read a text message than other forms of adverts. This is one reason they will continue to use them – that and the fact they are all on a budget so strive to get the maximum exposure with the least amount of money. "I don't like constantly sending them out but we know people will read them even if it is just for 10 seconds, but we don't know if the same can be said for a magazine advert," Dufton says.