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The 3:32 a.m. text and its place in mobile history

It is still a mystery why Sen. Obama's campaign to chose announce his vice presidential pick in a text message sent at 3:32 a.m. Eastern time Aug. 23. But history was made -- both for the candidate and for mobile.

This is the first time that a candidate running for president chose to announce his running mate via text and email instead of breaking the news first on television. It tells observers which medium is in the ascendant and works better as a targeted tool.

The text, from 62262 (spells OBAMA), ended weeks of speculation and confirmed leaks hours ahead of the announcement. It read: "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!"

Simple, and within the 160-character limit that SMS imposes. Note the use of the word "our". It assumes that all those who signed up are Obama supporters or Democrats. Brilliant marketing.

Marketers have much to learn from Sen. Obama's campaign. Its control of the message is as good and disciplined as President Bush's two campaigns. Its use of technology is probably the best in recent history. It is no surprise, then, that the campaign continues to raise prodigious sums of money each month through Internet donations.

Another admirable feature of the Obama campaign is the database it has built of grassroots voters. Again, the comparison is easily made with President Bush's database.

Both men's advisors -- David Axelrod in Sen. Obama's case and Karl Rove in President Bush's -- understand the importance of using technology and marketing in packaging the candidate.

Millions opted in to receive Mr. Obama's text and email messages. Some went further and signed up to receive regular updates and alerts on the Obama campaign as it enters a crucial stretch in the presidential campaign.

That text database will come most in handy to get out the vote, as it did in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. Sen. McCain's campaign should be worried.

Indeed, it is a surprise that the Republican candidate's campaign has not harnessed mobile in the way it could to energize the base and recruit youngsters to the conservative cause.

The surprise element
The Obama campaign is not simply to be admired for its use of online and mobile. It is to be commended for the use of text to build anticipation and excitement.

Think about it: Can that be replicated in marketing? Absolutely.

How about Apple asking consumers to opt in to receive texts for the next time it upgrades the iPhone?

How about movie studios spurring text registrations with the promise to disclose who's going to play Batman or James Bond when it is time next to make that decision? Ditto for sequels where the original actor will not again reprise the role.

How about Hollywood using text to break news of a new blockbuster's release date? Call it a warm-the-seat exercise to draw more traffic to the box office.

How about book publisher Bloomsbury using text to break the publication date of J.K. Rowling's next magnum opus?

And how about requesting consumers to sign up for text alerts on the launch dates of the next Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox upgrades?

The same exercise can be repeated for the music and automotive industries.

What Sen. Obama's campaign has proven is that text messaging can be used to generate buzz. Business should closely follow how text -- and, by extension, mobile -- shapes this election and then imagine ways to adapt those tactics for marketing campaigns and new products.

Banks are already finding innovative uses of text, and not just for balances.

For example, this writer recently received a phone call soon after a few transactions using a Visa credit card. After confirming the transactions through auto prompt, the recorded voice asked if this writer would like to receive fraud alerts by text. Who can resist?

Within seconds of opting in, this message was sent to the mobile phone: "You have registered for fraud alerts. Reply STOP to cancel, reply HELP for more info. Chase Bank 888-413-3138 30 msgs/month max. Other text rates may apply".

In this case, Chase is using text for making its customer feel secure. What a nice addition to its customer retention initiatives. No one wants a surprise with the credit card.