The revamped Nokia 3310 device is displayed after its presentation ceremony at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. Local advertising agency sources confirm that in the last three months, the SMS was the go-to medium for anything from announcing discounts at stores to special deals. Image Credit: REUTERS


One traditional advertising medium is making a comeback of sorts.

The SMS (short message service) is again winning the attention of UAE-based marketers for campaigns that do not need to cost much. Advertising agency sources confirm that in the last three months, the SMS was the go-to medium for anything from announcing discounts at stores to special deals on New Year/Valentine’s Day, and even the odd property launch or two.

“The fact that a simple, straightforward message can be put out for 8-10 fils is what is making the SMS platform so effective again,” said a marketer. “In terms of cost-effectiveness to (audience) reach, this hits all the right spots, and more so at a time when everyone is watching every fil they have to spend on advertising and marketing.”

So, in the age of WhatsApp and Snapchat, the SMS still has its uses and winning over more converts. (For the record, the first ever SMS was sent out in the UK in December of 1992.) Some marketers did try and push through WhatsApp based campaigns, but they have yet to catch on in the same way as an ad placement on Facebook or Instagram.

“It is a product of the current environment of RoI (return on investment) based short-term marketing,” said Amit Raj, General Manager at BPG Maxus. “It is intended to drive quick conversions through customised messaging. Another plus is that it ensures minimum spillover and extremely focused audience targeting.

“These messages are ideal for all kinds of promotions and sales.”

It will be interesting to see whether the interest in SMS-based outreach will continue to have momentum. It could be that the current gains are more because of advertisers’ need to be frugal with their budgets, whereby they have cut down on their print, TV and even digital exposures. According to market feedback, digital ad spend in the UAE recorded a slight month-on-month decline in November, possibly for the first time since the digital and social media revolution took off in the region earlier this decade. (A typical digital ad would cost about $30 per thousand impressions (CPM), which is the standard ad industry benchmark in the virtual space.)

But these are retro-times, at least going by the amount of interest swirling around SMS options. More deals are happening in the space as well, and not limited to issuing marketing-laced messages.

Just last week, the local telco du announced a tie-up with UK based ONEm, to launch the “Postboard”. It will act as a “public and private bulletin board” using its SMS platform, where users can duplicate the functionalities found in services like Craigslist, eBay, Twitter and Facebook. In addition, du customers can tap into interactive SMS-based versions of Wikipedia, Reuters and Bloomberg News from ONEm partners.

Currently, “Promotional messages are the order of the day — within this requirement, the SMS can be a highly effective marketing tool,” said Raj. “And the SMS databases are becoming more robust.

“But cost cannot be seen as a basis of comparison on both the platforms (SMS versus digital ads). Digital ads are more interactive and leads to more engagement with customers.

“The SMS is intended to push a message to call for action. It should ideally complement each other, with the SMS contributing effectively to the “last click” or conversion. Even if we put a cost factor to reach, SMS is arguably cost-effective and straight forward on measurement. Digital ads are measured on the basis of interaction, which can differ with category, audience and objective.”