SMS has completely transformed marketing as known to civilized man (this does not imply, by any chance, that marketing is civilized!). Every other ad hoarding between Nariman Point and Bandra demanded a follow-up sms action from the reader. They all said “SMS __ to ___” (and presumably, one’s wildest fantasies would be fulfilled by the concerned service provider). Apart from Elbonian mail-order brides (no, that is not my wildest fantasy), you could order pretty much anything else by SMS-ing a few letters to the appropriate shortcode.
This SMS-craze falls into two segments. The first lot includes companies (mostly in financial services) hoping that the reader is stupid (or lonely) enough to open up their cellphone to a barrage of sales calls. The second comprises a new breed of TV programs, where viewers decide the fate of bright-eyed men and women, who attempt to sing and dance their way to fame.
In the first category, the shortcode-Oscar went to HSBC for actually having 3 different shortcodes (possibly more – I found 3 in a mere 20 km stretch). You could sms PVA to 6161, HSBC to 8558 and Invest to 7333, to reach the hallowed bank. If you think I am making this up, go ahead and try out all three (thereby proving that you need to get a life). I suspect the same call center agent would call you thrice. Wait till their CEO figures out what his three SBUs have been up to. Other banks are not far behind, including Kotak Bank who also use 6161 (sms KM instead of PVA). So were insurers (ING to 8558, Life to 7827, BSLI to 7333). The most interesting one was a new Hindi movie – Neal n’ Nikki – asking me to sms NN to 3366. I haven’t tried it yet, but expect a steamy MMS clip from the movie, in return. Of course, you could sms any random text to the big daddy of all shortcodes – 8888 – and get something in return.
Indian television (as known to civilized man, again) has been hijacked by a new breed of reality shows where contestants sing or dance or both, undergo public humiliation at the hands of the judges, become India’s sweethearts and make shitloads of money. Some bright marketer (fill in your own witty comment here) had a lightbulb-moment and decided to get viewers to vote through SMS. We didn’t stand a chance after that. We laughed and wept as our favorite contestants swayed and hummed, and used up our hard-earned chota-recharges egging on gawky kids with colored hair. Last night, I watched one of these programs, where pairs of TV stars (presumably, married to each other) danced till all-but-one get eliminated. One lady participant tearfully told the whole nation that the greatest thing her hubby had ever achieved in life was to complete his dance performance, despite feeling somewhat under the weather. The hubby looked suitably moved due to the emotion of the moment, but would hopefully realize exactly what his wife thought of his other achievements in life. After some calm reflection, I suspect that he’ll be looking up the shortcode for Elbonian mail-order brides.
This is only the beginning. I am awaiting the speciality magazine for shortcode-afficionados (suggestions welcome for what this mag would be called). The mag would include a weekly shortcode popularity ranking, thumb-exercises to stay sms-fit (accompanied by photos of sixpack thumbs), free software to change your sms font to Helvetica etc. That would be followed by specialized brand consultants who would help companies identify the shortcode that best reflects their brand positioning (after which, the aforementioned bank would ditch 6161, 8558, 7333 in favor of 4722). As a logical extension of TV show voting, Bihar elections would be done on SMS (sms Laloo or Nitish to 24427). Naturally, the elections would not get completed, as multiple sets of goons ‘capture’ sms gateways of mobile operators and furiously stuff stamped ballots into hapless servers.
Remember 100s of monkeys clattering away on typewriters forever, with a rather small probability of producing Shakespeare’s works. Give the same set of monkeys a mobile phone each. They are still unlikely to write prose, but I’ll bet that they’ll emerge with health insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, free movie tickets and a mail-order bride! Better still, they’d have dashed the hopes of several tearful TV hopefuls in the process through their random voting.
PS. Just as I finished typing this and was getting onto the internet using my mobile data-card, I received the following sms – “Subscribe 4 Daily dose of Fun: Sms SUB JOK to 8282 to get your daily dose of Fun two times a day for 30 days @ Rs 30”.