"What's the short code for American Idol?" asks Joseph Gillespie, CEO of mobile marketing company Zoove, referring to the show's text-message voting system. "It's the largest use-case in history, but no one can remember it because the number doesn't make any sense."
How brands connect to consumers is a huge headache for marketers—not just Idol fans—who've now tried almost every trick in the book to get your attention. SMS messages ("Text YES to 45938993"), QR codes, Facebook profiles, website addresses—you can't find an advertisement today that doesn't feature at least one of these marketing tactics. But how many times have you actually sent that text message or remembered that website name or scanned that QR code?
Gillespie believes Zoove has solved the problem. Using the company's exclusive rights to what are called StarStar (**) calling codes, brands can now purchase vanity numbers to streamline the process of connecting with consumers. Dial **ESPN on your phone, for example, and by the time you hear the first ring, you'll already have received a text message directly from the sports network with a link to a highlight video or poll. In the future, you might be dialing **Flowers for a link to download the 1-800-Flowers app or punching in **Coke for a soda discount.
The idea behind Zoove is incredibly simple, yes, but simplicity is exactly what marketers yearn for in the age of iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys. It's partly the reason the company has raised $37 million in funding, and secured backing from all major U.S. mobile carriers—Verizon, AT&T, and as of today, T-Mobile and Sprint, which are supporting StarStar calling numbers.
"Everyone knows how to make a phone call—there's nothing to download here," Gillespie says. "You don't have to get off the couch. You don't even have to go to a computer. Don't turn on a browser and type in CBS-News-dot-com-back-slash-Early-Show-way-too-fricking-long. Just call **Early."
Big brands are already rushing to sign up—even at a big cost. StarStar numbers will be licensed annually to companies for as low as $7,500 to as much as $100,000. Gillespie says generics—say, **Pizza or **Taxi—are being harvested and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Buyers can have as many as 15 digits or as few as one—the shorter the number, the more expensive. Expect to see a large promo push soon from the major carriers, which have revenue-sharing deals with Zoove.
Gillespie calls the current mobile advertising space "fragmented and confusing," and feels Zoove has created a scalable solution for the industry. "Unlike QR codes, these work on radio," he says. "Unlike SMS codes, these work on a billboard driving at 60 miles per hour." Zoove's ads are also dynamic, meaning they can be updated or changed in real-time.
"With Zoove, you can click on a billboard, you can click on a TV ad, you can click on a print ad," Gillespie says. "We've made the real world clickable."
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