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The University of Texas-Austin is using a text
messaging service to transmit promotional offers
to potential customers, says Associate Dining
Director Scott Meyer (above). The program lets
the department target its messages to specific
demographics, such as non-resident students
who might not otherwise consider using
campus all-you-care-to-eat facilities.

Texting is a way of life for college students, and the University of Texas-Austin’s division of Housing and Foodservice is taking advantage of customer comfort with this mode of communication to promote its business opportunities.

The initiative sends text messages to subscriber cell phones, offering them discounts and shortterm promotion opportunities. In one initial test, the department sent a $3 all-you-care-to-eat lunch offer (half the usual price) to 2,500 non-resident student subscribers to the service.

The text message was transmitted at 10:15 a.m. on a Thursday (an hour before the school’s J-2 café opened for lunch) with the offer good for only that day and the next. The first day, 67 students took advantage, and another 37 did so on Friday (to take advantage of the discount, the text message had to be saved and then displayed to obtain the discount).

“It’s been more successful than many coupon promotions I’ve run in the past,” says UT Associate Dining Director Scott Meyer.

“If as a result of that trial experience, all those students bought one additional meal in the dining hall, it pays back the cost of the promo. And meanwhile, we generated a successful trial among customers who for the most part had never eaten in that dining hall before.”

The texting system is run by a company called Mobile Campus, which offers university students free text messaging services in exchange for agreeing to receive a couple of text ads daily. At UT, students generally average about one message a day with a limit of two per day.

Subscribers can select the general categories of offers they wish to receive. Personal information is confidential and protected by a University ID code.

Mobile Campus has signed a five-year contract with the UT student government to run the student discount program, which is also used by other on and off-campus entities such as the bookstore and local restaurants.

The service provider gets its revenue from the advertisers. Ads, such as those from UT Dining, “have to be exclusive and a value,” according to Area Manager Stacy Torres. The messages are audited by the university before transmission for inappropriate content. Ads for alcohol or tobacco products, for example, are not allowed.

The value of the service is not just the immediacy of the transmissions and their use of a technology that the target audience is familar and comfortable with. It also lies in its ability to target subsegments of the total student body, such as non-resident students, to make the ads more effective. When students sign up, they answer a questionaire that establishes key demographic information in order to give users of the service the ability to target specific sub groups.

The service also allows the university to send messages to students quickly and effectively, an obvious advantage in an emergency situation, but also useful for routine communications such as orientation reminders.

Besides UT-Austin, 16 other schools are currently enrolled in the Mobile Campus program. Among them are the University of Florida, Clemson University and Kent State University.

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