Forgot to Send a Birthday Card? Phone It In

SHORT video messages or greetings for phones could soon be as ubiquitous as texting, or at least that’s what greeting card companies and other firms are hoping as they try out a new mobile service that delivers a brief video, with sound and music, as quickly, easily and often as cheaply as sending a text.

Dogs are featured in a video birthday greeting card from American Greetings.
American Greetings has a new service that transmits a video card chosen from its Web site directly to handsets of nearly all major mobile carriers. It has used a partnership with Mogreet Inc., provider of a multimedia messaging platform, to deliver the full-motion video greeting. Mogreet, based in Venice, Calif., is also working with the National Football League Players Association and other organizations to deliver campaigns directly to cellphones.
A major selling point for the mobile video is how easy it is to use, said Waltene Irving, 94, of Apple Valley, Calif., who used the service to find a Valentine’s Day sentiment for her granddaughter in Los Angeles last month.
Ms. Irving went to AG Interactive, American Greetings’ e-card section, and browsed its 50 cupid messages, selecting one with kittens and other animals. “You put in the mobile number, point to the picture and click send,” she said. “It’s very easy.”
Video messaging “is the intersection of two powerful trends — mobile and social networking,” said Michael Becker, managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association.
“It’s immediate, convenient and engaging,” he said, “and it enables companies to monetize their markets.”
Mr. Becker said that mobile video messaging, which is provided by several companies, “has a massive market because it can appeal to people without a data plan.” Some 80 percent of Americans, including Ms. Irving, do not have a data plan.
Portio Research, a British firm that tracks mobile messaging globally, predicted that the market for such multimedia messaging, while still trailing text messaging, would reach $31.5 billion by the end of 2010, following a 48 percent increase in traffic last year worldwide and a 22 percent increase in revenues.

The greeting card industry, confounding predictions that its products were out of sync in the mobile age, has been early in embracing such messaging to reach its customers. Hallmark, the industry’s biggest player, last July started its mobile messaging business, with different delivery mechanism than the one introduced by American Greetings.
Other companies offering such multimedia messaging include Nike, Reebok, Starwood Hotels and Warner Brothers. American Greetings is promoting its new service with targeted e-mail messages, information on its Web site and notices attached to its e-cards.
The company, based in Cleveland, is relying, at least initially, on the four million registered customers already on its Web site to expand the service, said Frank Fink, the company’s vice president for business affairs. There are 500 e- cards formatted for mobile delivery, and thousands more being prepared, he said. Cards are free to registered, or premium, users who pay $15.99 annually. Hallmark’s Web-to-mobile cards cost 99 cents a card.
American Greetings is getting ready to begin a second phase of advertising, using online display ads, social networking, banners on other Web sites and other Internet advertising.
“We see this as a major growth area,” Mr. Fink said. He said American Greetings has an iPhone app, and three months ago introduced a Facebook application.

Another Mogreet customer, the Broadway musical “In the Heights,” in January placed a billboard of Corbin Bleu, the young actor of “High School Musical” fame, in Times Square.
It invites people to text “Heights” to 21534 and receive a short video message from Mr. Bleu, and encourages buying tickets to the musical.
“This is a big step out of the comfort zone in entertainment ads,” said Sara Fitzpatrick, director of SpotCo., a subsidiary of the British company First Artist, which created the campaign. “The medium is still being understood, but it was a good fit for clients looking for a different way to engage the brand.”
Although Ms. Fitzpatrick did not provide figures, she said ticket sales had been increasing. She did not attribute that solely to the short-video campaign, but she said: “The potential is there. This service is really going to blow out in a couple of years.”
The reach of such messaging is also being explored by the National Football League Players Association. It started a campaign, which began around the Super Bowl, to give fans a glimpse of players off the field. Fans were asked to text “NFLPA” to 21534 to receive an 18-second video featuring Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets and several other players. The campaign — meant to create a mobile database to market the more than 1,800 active and retired N.F.L. players — enters participating fans in a sweepstakes for a trip to the 2010 Players Rookie Premiere, an event attended by 36 top rookies in Los Angeles. The sweepstakes winner will be announced in April.
So far, the players association and companies involved are not providing user figures from the video-messaging service. American Greetings declined to disclose how many mobile video cards were sent since the service was introduced in February.
But as consumers move toward in-the-moment interaction, the video cards have a large potential market, Mr. Fink said. More than one billion text greetings were sent for Valentine’s Day last year, according to industry figures. There are no overall numbers yet for video messaging traffic for 2010 Valentine’s Day because the information has to be gathered from dozens of carriers.
Most of this year’s video Valentine’s traffic at American Greetings occurred on Feb. 14, which fell on a Sunday. About 52 percent of users sent their message that day, and about one-third sent their loved ones a greeting the day before, according to Mogreet.
So what video cards were people sending? The most popular was a blue-eyed cupid, rapping “lyrics silky-smoother than a thornless rose.”

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