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By Patrick Garmoe

RISMEDIA, August 5, 2008-(MCT)-Duluth, Minnesota area advertisers are on the verge of adding text messaging to their arsenals. Within the past few weeks, Dubh Linn Irish Pub downtown began running an advertisement on the radio asking people to text “Irish” to 313131.

Aces on 29th plans to begin sending SMS-short message service-text messages this week about special deals or events at the Superior restaurant and bar.

And in the next couple of months Red Rock Radio, owner of several local stations, will begin sending text-message alerts to listeners when their favorite songs are about to be played.

“This is one more way to spread the word,” said Angela Krea, promotions manager for Aces on 29th in Superior and Aces on First in Duluth.

The surge is largely due to a new company in the Twin Ports, Northland SMS, which launched to provide text messaging across the region.

The sole goal of the company is to make it simple for clients to send mass text messages to their customers, said founder and owner Philip Hoberg. “We focus entirely on mobile marketing.”

Here’s how the service works: The customer sends the initial text message via cell phone, thus providing the business with his or her cell phone number. Those phone numbers then are logged into Northland SMS’s database. Via the Internet, the business logs onto the Northland SMS website and sends out text messages to all the cell phone numbers in its database simultaneously, similar to using an e-mail distribution list. Patrons can opt out of the text message list as well, with a separate text message.

While nearly every cell phone has the capability to send and receive text messages, service providers typically charge about 15 cents per text message sent or received, although many regular users of text messaging pay a flat monthly fee for text messages.

Posting a few signs at Aces on 29th urging people to text “Get Aces” to 313131 already has prompted about 50 people to send messages to the number, thereby adding their numbers to the restaurant and bar’s customer list.

“So far, it’s actually given us a bigger list than we expected,” Krea said, noting that Aces on First plans to add the service in August.

The idea is to send out about one text message a week, letting patrons know on the fly about upcoming bands and special deals, Krea said. “This is just an easier way versus making them log onto their e-mail,” she said.

Hoberg touted the benefits of text-message advertising.

“They’re not paying for the 99 percent of people they’ll never reach,” Hoberg said. “It’s quick. It’s nuts and bolts. It gets you the message,” he said.

Unlike old-fashioned advertisements lined up days or weeks in advance, this kind of advertising is much more immediate.

A bartender can decide Friday afternoon to offer a special drink that night, for example, and send out a message.

But what about the people who never heard of a particular business, but might stop by if they received a coupon?

For that group, Hoberg said his company is creating a list of coupons from various stores and businesses to send. Anyone interested in seeing the specials should text “get all” to 313131.

Web-based coupons are also a growth market for older media companies, such as the Duluth News Tribune.

In January, Fargo, N.D.-based Forum Communications-which owns the News Tribune-launched Marketplace, an online site at where advertisers can post coupons and allow customers to download them onto their cell phones.

Unlike Hoberg’s service, which automatically sends the coupons to phones, people can see the actual deals online and subsequently select which ones they want to receive.

Paul Amundson, director of digital media for Forum Communications, said the company is more interested in focusing on cell phones equipped with e-mail and Web-surfing capabilities-called smart phones-instead of phones that can send and receive only black-and-white text messages.

He expects smart phones to become the norm over the next few years, so the company is positioning itself to serve that market, which will have a lot more potential for advertising. In many cases, full Web pages can be viewed on these phones.

“The SMS feature is going to be replaced by a Web-based feel,” Amundson said.

Hoberg said his company focuses on using black-and-white text messages for now, because that’s what the typical cell phone is capable of sending and receiving. But his company will be ready to switch to more colorful messages and videos when smart phones become the norm.

Copyright © 2008, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.