‘USA Today’ Texts Ads Alongside News

NEW YORK The average USA Today reader is 44 years old. But the paper is hoping its audience will soon be text messaging like teenagers—early and often. To help drive that behavior and open up a new revenue stream, the paper will announce this week the launch of an integrated platform combining print and interactive ads in text messages.

Charter advertisers include Citibank, which is promoting a new mobile banking service to customers via new cell phone ads. Chevrolet and Microsoft are also on board.

“Typically our readers don’t text message,” said Matt Jones, director of mobile strategy and operations for Gannett Digital, a unit of USA Today parent, Gannett Co. “That’s something their kids do. We’re trying to introduce the value proposition of these types of services and how they can be … relevant for someone who’s not 17 years old.”

Print ads in the paper’s Money and Sports sections, as well as on its weather page, will give readers a number they can text with requests for up-to-date information on a company or sports team, or to get a five-day local weather forecast. The reply would contain an interactive ad.

The Sports-section platform is sponsored by Chevrolet. Each time a reader query is received, the reply includes an ad with the option to retrieve even more information about a particular model or directions to the nearest dealer. The Citi mobile ads appear in text messages containing stock and mutual fund prices, and consumers can text for details about their balances or the location of nearby ATMs.

According to Zaw Thet, founder and CEO of mobile search and text messaging firm 4INFO, which helped USA Today build its platform, the response rate to interactive mobile ads is in the 15 to 20 percent range, several times higher than response rates for direct mail or direct TV. “When ads are integrated into content that is relevant, people respond very well to it,” he said.