Feeling old? Reclaim lost youth with a text message

Household-name advertisers are reaching out to under-25s via their mobile phones
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Many women vividly remember the first time they bought a Clinique beauty product. The transaction would have involved not only a serious amount of cash but also braving the superior stares of a sales assistant with make-up applied by trowel.

Leaving the store afterwards, clutching a goody bag full of Clinique's trademark pale-green and silver packaged products, the buyer would feel a sense of having arrived, of achievement even. Traditionally this was not the sort of expenditure women made until well into their thirties, and it was regarded as a badge of maturity.

But now the upmarket skincare and cosmetics house is determined to make the notoriously difficult transition to a younger market and sell its "three-step cleansing, toning and moisturising" regime to 20 to 22-year-olds. And in order to achieve this it has abandoned its mature image and is pursuing the latest in hi-tech marketing techniques.

Clinique has teamed up with B magazine, one of the biggest sellers aimed at that age group, and with a marketing agency called Aerodeon, which has some new ideas on how to reach the under-25s.

Instead of using images of impossibly flawless women in magazine adverts, Clinique is "micro-targeting" its potential customers via their mobile phones.

The latest issue of B features a whole page on Clinique's cleansing regime and invites readers to answer a series of questions about their skin type, colouring and beauty problems. The answers are to be sent not by post, but via text messages to the magazine.

In return, readers will receive a voucher on their own phone, which they can present to a Clinique saleswoman in any one of 440 stockists in the country, entitling them to free samples of products designed specifically for them. In this way, both B and Clinique will be able to obtain the text message addresses, ages and postcodes of their target market: invaluable for use in future promotions.

The campaign was masterminded by Andrew Jones, managing director of Aerodeon, which describes itself as Britain's first specialist text-messaging marketing consultancy. Mr Jones admits that Clinique was "initially not a very obvious candidate for this new approach, as they are traditionally very brand conscious. But instead of showing younger women pictures of beautiful models, they wanted to introduce them directly to the products themselves. And this was the most effective way of doing it, of getting their future customers while they are still young."

The offer is still running, so figures are not yet available to measure its success. But similar campaigns by the cosmetics house Rimmel and the Ministry of Sound nightclub and record label, featured in teen magazines such as Sugar and J-17, are proving that text messaging can reach an elusive younger target audience. Many advertisers have been able to build up "text clubs" with 30,000 or 40,000 key members, although it is impossible to predict their long-term business viability.

The text message is currently so pervasive in the lives of under-25s that advertisers are now convinced it is a more effective medium even than television. The decline in levels of both television viewing and smoking among this age group is attributed to the fact that youngsters are spending their time and money on mobile phones instead.

Mr Jones founded Aerodeon two years ago and now has 42 household-name clients. He says the playground and the school bus have proved "very fertile environments" for advertisers wanting to reach school-age consumers. But the text message age group is leaving school, and messages beamed into the college canteen or high-street café could now prove equally rewarding.

Mr Jones claims that over one million teenagers have already registered with any number of text clubs, from the fan club for the hip-hop band So Solid Crew (run entirely by text message) to the Top of the Pops magazine text club, aimed at 12 to 16-year-old girls.

A TOTP message to its club members last month was fairly typical (if baffling to most over-25s): "A1's Ben wears a thong – Urh! But dats not all. C da nu ishu of TOTP + FREE lip & nail kit – out now! If ur lookin 4 luv chk out sngle boys Steve Andy & Ant frm 3sl."

The teen magazines have a subtle approach to their text clubs. Members are not bombarded with obvious advertisements for a certain lipstick. Aerodeon's Mr Jones explains that members receive both news and services that "we think may be of interest to them on a daily rather than a monthly basis, which is what limits the magazines themselves." In this way products can be pushed every single day of the year.

Some text messages will be straightforward information, with magazine readers perhaps being tipped off about a dishy actor in a forthcoming film. Others will be advertorial, possibly saying, for instance: "Use this Rimmel lipstick to look like Jennifer Lopez."

The fact that text messaging is not exclusive to boy-mad teenage girls is demonstrated only too clearly by the growing range of companies employing it. These now include Procter & Gamble, Wilkinson Sword, KPMG and Mars, all corporate giants who will be keeping close tabs on the market effectiveness of text messaging as it becomes ever more mainstream.