When Campagnia restaurant in Fresno wants to lets its customers know about a half-off appetizer special, it sends a text message to their cell phones.
It's a form of marketing that's growing across the country -- and just beginning to take hold in Fresno.
Several restaurants, a radio station, a housing development and other companies are using such text messaging here. They use the technology to let customers know about events, discounts, contests and otherwise stay in touch with their customers.
The technology is based on short codes -- five-digit numbers that customers must voluntarily text a word to, which signs them up for the service. Their cell phone numbers are stored, and the company can send them text messages later.
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It's the same technology that "American Idol" fans use to vote via text message for the contestant they want to win.
It also was used during the election last summer, when Barack Obama's campaign sent a text message announcing Joe Biden as his vice presidential pick to 2.9 million people who had signed up with the campaign, despite the mass media beating them to the announcement.
About that time, Eric McCormick left his job as the general sales manager in advertising at KJWL (FM 99.3) to start McCormick Mobile Media, a company offering text messaging, Web sites designed to be viewed via phone and other forms of marketing.
Marketing text messages are an alternative to advertising on more than 100 TV channels, radio and print advertising consumers are bombarded with, he said.
More than 50% of cell phone users have experienced some form of mobile marketing, according to a report by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, and the practice is expected to grow.
Text-message marketing is targeted to customers who want to hear the message, he said.
"You're communicating directly to your customer," he said. "People want to know what businesses are doing."
Campagnia sent a text to its customers last month for the Springtini fundraiser at the nearby Riverview Shopping Center. It informed them of its shuttle service from the restaurant and encouraged them to return after the event for discounted beer and cocktails, said owner Tony Sciola.
In past years, business at the restaurant dwindled as Springtini ended. This year, Campagnia got a late-night rush of customers, he said. He attributes it to the text message that went to several hundred customers, because that was the only way the restaurant promoted the shuttle and discounts.
"I'd say we generated an extra $2,500 to $3,000," he said. "It does a great job targeting our customer base."
Other restaurants make their messages even more trackable.
World Sports Cafe recently sent a text to customers saying "show this message and get 25% off your meal." Customers showed their phones to the waiter or waitress for the discount.
The text messages won't make other forms of advertising obsolete, said Thielen Ideacorp's vice president of media services Linda Sommers.
Companies still need to advertise in print and other ways to get people to sign up for the text messages, she said.
"I don't see that this is going to replace anything," she said. "It will be a part of our lives, just like radio spots."
Campagnia encourages customers to sign up for the text messages on printed material sitting on its bar and bar tables.
Locally owned 1430 ESPN Radio takes the technology a step further, said promotions director Drew Vertiz, who used it several years ago at a similar job in Las Vegas.
The station asks listeners to send a text to participate in a contest, to vote in the Miss 1430 contest and to send in questions for on-air hosts. Questions go to an e-mail in-box and don't have names attached.
"It's just another way for us to stay in touch with our listeners," he said.
Privacy and spam are a concern of cell phone users, who fear that companies will take their information and use it for other purposes. According to the Forrester Research report, 19% of cell phone users have received text message spam.
McCormick said his company takes the concern seriously. The organization that distributes the short codes monitors their use, and another association requires that its members obey certain guidelines.
Vertiz said: "You don't want to bombard people with it," he said. "The more you bombard, the less likely they'll stay opted in."
Every message includes a way for users to opt out. Of the more than 1,000 people who signed up through ESPN radio, none has opted out, Vertiz said.
Consumers can expect to see more companies using this form of marketing and in more advanced forms, McCormick said. It's already being tied in with Web sites designed to be viewed on cell phones.
The real estate signs outside the Quail Lake gated community east of Clovis invite prospective home buyers to send a text to a short code. They immediately get a text message back with information about the house, including number of bedrooms and price. It includes a link to a Web site designed to be viewed on a cell phone with more information and pictures.
At least one business in Oregon sends coupon bar codes in the form of picture messages to its customers. The image on the cell phone can be scanned just like a coupon.