BMW has launched a promotional campaign on mobile phones testing a new medium, a medium to which many have access, but few – advertisers and consumers – use. There are nearly 160 million cellular subscribers in the U.S., but according to a recent JupiterResearch consumer survey, only six percent of online consumers have received an SMS from a business. Cellular phones are ubiquitous, but the majority of consumers are not comfortable with either the text messaging or WAP browsing features required to participate in this marketing campaign. BMW does indeed have a tech-savvy customer base more likely to understand how to download graphics to their phones, but this far from assures a great user experience.
Being both a wireless and an automotive enthusiast, I was anxious to try the experience. I dialed 703-286-BMW3 on my Nascar-branded Motorola phone operating on the Nextel network. Once I connected, I received a message that I would receive an SMS. An SMS arrived at my phone shortly thereafter. Embedded in the SMS was a URL with a link to the photo gallery. Unfortunately, my browser would not allow me to "highlight" and connect to the URL. I asked several of my colleagues around the office to do the same. A colleague on Sprint was able to connect – another on AT&T Wireless was not. The experience was "ok" – hard to scroll through a lot of text on the phone (and I had to keep reloading) and a rather small screen to be viewing such exciting content (it's been six or seven years since the last major 3-series redesign). A novel experience though.
All in all, I think it's a good play by BMW. The campaign probably cost little to produce, and the "ok" experience comes at a time when consumers do not have high expectations for multi-media experiences on their phones. It gives BMW an opportunity to test the mobile phone medium and learn from the experience. The mobile phone will grow in importance as a medium for advertisers. Early adopters (advertisers) may not see success as measured by traditional metrics, but the early lessons will give them invaluable experience once some of the technical issues (e.g., MMS interoperability) are resolved. It also begins the process of teaching consumers how to use these features on their phones.