Local company tries its hand at wireless industry, promotions

Paul Thissen

Vibes Media fits the mold of a Silicon Valley start-up, not a standard suburban small-business.

It’s a company run by guys six years out of college competing at the forefront of a booming technology sector.

Vibes, an Evanston-based company, offers spectators at events such as concerts or sports games the opportunity to participate in a trivia contest or enter a drawing by sending in a text message of a particular word to a phone number.

The phone number and word often are put on fliers, printed on ticket stubs or shown on a TV screen.

“It’s all about interactions,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vibes, 1840 Oak Ave.

Text messaging is one of the fastest-growing components of the wireless industry, and using it as a marketing tool is a relatively new idea in the United States. Text messaging first began overseas and grew faster in that part of the world, Campbell said.

In Vibes’ promotions, those who send the specified messages receive a reply asking another question. The cycle repeats until the participant fails to reply, after which no more messages are received.

Vibes differs from some competitors in that it does not build up lists of phone numbers for future use.

In another type of promotion Vibes ran, concert-goers sent text messages to a specified phone number, which then appeared on a large screen behind the performer.

Campbell said promoters employ these programs because they provide a unique way for attendees to participate in events. Participants can spend an extended period of time interacting with the brand even after the event ends, thus drawing them in even further.

For example, people participated in one trivia game Vibes recently ran for an average of 45 hours.

The initial sponsors of these marketing techniques were the wireless companies themselves, who wanted to get consumers interested in any form of text messaging. Vibes ran promotions for Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular and AT&T Wireless.

“Wireless companies want to become the post office,” Campbell said.

These companies did not try to limit participation to their own phone service plans, though, because they wanted to get their name out to as many people as possible.

“That’s a great marketing space — your competitor’s phone,” Campbell said.

Now more companies unrelated to the wireless industry hire Vibes so they can use those promotional tools.

Sports teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Cubs and Bears, have featured promotional campaigns by Vibes, as have Blink-182, Eminem and Britney Spears. Northern Illinois University, Northern Iowa University and the University of Wisconsin also hired Vibes for sports promotions.

Weinberg freshman Erica Evers said she had participated in a text-messaging promotion in which text messages were displayed on a screen at a New Year’s Eve event.

But Tyler Perrachione, also a Weinberg freshman, said promotions weren’t worth it if they showed up on his cell phone bill.

“If I had free text messaging, I would,” Perrachione said. “But as it stands, I have to pay for my messages.

According to Campbell, Vibes benefits from its close proximity to NU. Two of the company’s top-ranking executives were graduates of Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“It’s great to be here — there’s a lot of smart people at Northwestern,” Campbell said. “Last year, five Kellogg students came and did a marketing survey, which was very helpful.”