One thing mobile text messaging has proven effective at is delivering alerts, automated notifications that are usually meant to provoke an immediate response. Whether it’s a notice from your bank that someone just put a charge on your debit card or from your office security system that an alarm was tripped on the second floor, SMS messaging has proven effective at creating a real-time response.
That fact and the privacy of the mobile phone have made it useful for sending very personal alerts. For about three years now, parenting portal BabyCenter.com has offered a text alert service that sends subscribers a message just before they go into ovulation for the month.
For more than a year now, Bright Pink, a national non-profit organization promoting breast cancer awareness, has been providing the same kind of service with its monthly “Underwire Alerts”, SMS reminders to perform a breast self-examination. Users can text “PINK” to 59227 or opt in online to receive a text message encouraging them to “treasure their chest” with a quick exam.
Both the light tone and the choice of mobile as a channel are tailored to Bright Pink’s target demographic: women between 18 and 45 who may have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer but who have not received a diagnosis.
“We’re the only national non-profit that focuses on promoting the early detection and prevention of breast and ovarian cancer,” says Leah Drew, Bright Pink marketing and events manager. “Our focus is on helping young women understand their personal risk for those diseases, and then providing them with the tools and resources to take a proactive approach to their health by either detecting cancer at an early non-threatening stage or preventing it altogether.”
Monthly self-exams have been proven effective in detecting and limiting early cancers. But the natural aversion to performing them, combined with the difficulty of remembering to build that monthly chore into a busy life, has meant that young women are not catching as many early warnings as they might.
That’s where Underwire Alerts come in. Women who’ve signed up receive a monthly text message reminding them to “mind your melons” and “touch your tatas”. “Whether you’re rocking 32A’s or DD’s, we want you to go to second base with yourself once a month,” the Web sign-up page says. “We’ll send you a text message once a month reminding you to stop and think about the girls for a little while. (Talk about supportive!)”
The breezy tone is intended to take some of the fear out of something that Bright Pink wants to make a lifelong monthly behavior in its audience, says Drew. Too much of the breast health information available online is dauntingly grim and as likely to scare someone into denial as to get them taking charge of their own health.
The Underwire Alert campaign began last year as a test effort with mobile marketing agency Vibes Media.
“They wanted to reach their target audience of mostly young females,” says Vibes CEO Alex Campbell. “We recommended mobile as an excellent channel for that, since that demographic almost always has their cell phone nearby. And the mobile phone is a particularly personal device, which makes it appropriate for messaging on a personal topic such as breast health.”
Campbell points out that since they are opt-in only, SMS messages have a very strong open rate—as high as 97% in some research, compared to 16% for email. The great majority of those messages (as much as 83%) are opened within an hour of delivery, making SMS that much more effective as a vehicle for real-time calls to action.
Campbell says future iterations of the Underwire Alert program may give users the ability to set the date and time of day for receiving their reminders. “Ensuring that you receive a reminder at a time when you’re able to act on it immediately, say, while getting ready for work–that could make SMS messaging even more effective as a tool for promoting behavior,” he says.
Taking the alerts mobile meant that Bright Pink could take sign-ups both on its Web site using a standard form and directly via mobile device at the live events the group and its regional chapters run throughout the year, using the short code provided by Vibes.
“We promote the alerts regularly at conferences we attend, events we hold, networking fairs and so on,” says Drew. “Pretty much anywhere we go, we’ll make an announcement about it, because it’s the easiest way to get involved with Bright Pink.” She says the Underwire Alerts offering had “a few thousand” registered subscribers going into October and expects the numbers will have grown thanks to 10 local events around the country to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Bright Pink’s informational content, including the Underwire Alerts, stays resolutely upbeat. On the Web site, the group’s “Little Bright Book” breast self-exam .pdf download is written to be the exact opposite of the dour pamphlets available in doctors’ waiting rooms. (It’s also “supported and lifted up” by Orbit White gum.) And the series of videos available on Bright Pink’s Facebook page (and on Orbit’s YouTube channel) feature E! Channel reporter Giuliana Rancic engaging California passersby in discussions about the “best breasts in Hollywood" or their pet nicknames for those parts—while still imparting serious information about breast health and cancer prevention.
“Each video begins with a funny question to get people talking and draw them in, and then the more serious educational message comes after they’re engaged,” says Drew. “In all our messaging we want to be serious but not grim. Our message is, look on the bright side: You can be smart about your health, and the benefit of knowing more is that you can do more.”