National Consumers League

Mobile marketing getting the message out


By Rebecca Burkholder, VP for NCL Health Policy Did you know that Americans now send more text messages than make phone calls? We sent more than 135 billion text messages each month in 2009, up from 78 billion for all of 2008. Companies and organizations are recognizing texting and other mobile marketing techniques as a way to connect with and provide additional services to consumers.  These new marketing techniques were the topic of discussion at a recent briefing I attended sponsored by Google and the Ad Council. Mobile marketing—marketing via mobile devices, such as cell phones—is the latest trend for reaching consumers on a variety of issues, including health. The Centers for Disease Control has been using texting to send health messages ranging from information on how to safely cook a Thanksgiving turkey to where to get the H1N1 vaccine. Why turn to mobile to get the message out?  Because it engages people where they are, in real time, and has the ability to reach diverse audiences and allows for tailored messages.  The CDC KnowIt campaign, launched to encourage HIV testing, was a mobile texting campaign that encouraged users to text their zip code to "KnowIt" (566948) and, within seconds, receive a text message identifying an HIV testing site near them.  The campaign was promoted through radio and television ads and via the Internet. Through text messages, consumers can be directed to Web sites with more information or to sign up for more messages.  For information on H1N1, the CDC encouraged consumers (often through Twitter) to sign up for H1N1 text messages and to visit the CDC Web site. Mobile phones are also being used to help remind consumers when to take their medications. Applications are now available that help consumers keep track of medicines by creating a customized “pillbox,” which can list all medications, identify  them by color and shape, and schedule alarms to tell consumers when to take the pills. As we become a society that is dependent on mobile phones and devices (we have our mobile phone within arms’ reach 19 hours a day), using text messages and applications may be one of the best ways to provide health information and promote healthy behavior. And, as it is now, mobile marketing allows consumers to choose how (and how often) they are getting health information. Since consumers have more control over what they receive, perhaps they will be more receptive to the messages.