Can Brands Finally Break In to Your Texts?

Let’s say you and your friends are among the 1.8 million people in this country who watch the MTV reality series America’s Best Dance Crew. And let’s say that during the show, you share your thoughts with one another through a group text-messaging application. Wouldn’t it be great if MTV could break in on your private little group to send you behind-the-scenes footage? Or exclusive interviews with the dancers? Wouldn’t it be great if, just maybe, your group was given the chance to text with a dancer directly?
That, at least, is the idea behind Featured Groups, a new service launched today by group messaging and conference call service GroupMe. By starting a Featured Group with friends, users allow the brand they select to send special offers and “inside information” directly into their private conversations. Partners include Oxygen Media, the band Bon Jovi, and Bonnaroo and Coachella, two of the biggest annual concert events in the United States.
“It’s sort of a joint promotion,” Michael Scogin, vp of MTV Mobile, told Adweek. “We get to try out a new platform of engagement for our audience, and [GroupMe] gets the chance to be associated with one of our highest-rated shows. So it’s mutually beneficial.”
The benefit to brands is obvious: Text messaging has real potential as a marketing medium, and with the exception of a few efforts like the Obama campaign’s, it’s gone largely untapped. “The average teenager texts an average of 3,400 text messages a month,” Scogin said. “For our audience, it’s their primary form of communication.”
The incentive for users is that of the suddenly ubiquitous social coupon or promotional offer—20 percent off tacos at Coachella’s food court! A chance to win backstage passes right now!—with the added value of “timely news.” Not to mention the tantalizing feeling of knowing, hoping, praying, that one day you might be able to text with Jon Bon Jovi himself.
The value to GroupMe, on the other hand, isn’t as immediately obvious. “Ultimately this is something we’re going to be charging for,” Jared Hecht, a GroupMe co-founder, said. For now, as Scogin put it, “no money will change hands.” The feature could help GroupMe build its user base, especially as it brings in more high-profile brands, but at some point Hecht and fellow co-founder Steve Martocci will have to start thinking about revenue. (Their task wasn’t made any easier when Facebook acquired Beluga, their chief competitor, earlier this month.)
Revenue aside, GroupMe’s own brand recognition will also benefit from being a first mover in the increasingly important area known as “co-viewing.” At the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas—the stage for GroupMe’s coming out party—a “future of television” panel stressed how important it was for programs to have a larger, social aspect.
“There’s a lot of people, especially the younger demographic, that want to talk with their friends during the show and check out additional content in addition to what they’re viewing,” Scogin said. “This GroupMe promotion is another form of that.”