RINGTONES: Win while you're ringing - Ringtones are often irritating, but brands are looking to turn the catchy quality of mobile phone tunes to their advantage.(Industry Overview)
Everyone suffers from it - an irritatingly catchy tune that gets into your head
and will not leave until sleep, death or something more exciting takes over.
Broadcasters and advertisers have exploited this phenomenon for years - the
former to extend the life of content via theme tunes, the latter to keep their
products at the top of consumers' minds.
Now brands have another opportunity to exploit the marketing potential of
melody: the ringtone. Any product associated with a catchy tune can benefit.
They are only just beginning to be taken up as a marketing medium, but ringtones
are set for fast growth as they become more sophisticated and even a standard
part of brand marketing.
Thomas Dolby, 80s electro-pop star and founder of audio software company
Beatnik, is working with Nokia on ringtones. He believes that the medium has
great potential. 'Global brand companies are not really aware of ringtone
marketing yet, but they are starting to look at it,' he says.
The European mobile services market (mostly ringtones) was worth Eur590 million
(pounds 354m) last year, according to Jupiter MMXI analyst Olivier Beauvillain.
He estimates that the UK accounts for about 20 per cent - about pounds 75m - of
Most of that activity relates to independent companies selling ringtones over
the net. But there are already signs of big brand involvement, mostly so far
relating to broadcasters.
Visitors to the Sex and the City page on the Channel 4 web site
(www.channel4.com), for example, can pay pounds 1.99 to download the theme tune,
which has recently been a hit in the charts.
As well as bringing in revenue, having the theme tune emitted from mobile phones
across the country has a huge marketing benefit for the channel while consumers
get the chance to be associated with the equity of the show.
Robert Marsh, Channel 4 controller of telephony development, reveals: 'Sex and
the City is one of the biggest sellers - we have sold quite a few thousand.'
Marsh says research for the channel suggests ringtones are not price-sensitive.
If people decide they want the Channel 4 News ringtone, for example, they don't
particularly care whether they have to pay pounds 1.50 or pounds 4.50 for it. A
review of pricing is planned - all ringtones currently cost pounds 1.99. The
channel sees big potential for profit from ringtones, as the cost of sending one
can be as low as 3p.
Recent pronouncements from the Independent Television Commission (ITC) have
cleared the way for broadcasters to promote ringtones on-air in the same way as
books at the end of shows - although the ITC only has jurisdiction over
commercial television, so this change would have no impact on the BBC. Marsh
says the likelihood is that the next Big Brother series, which is scheduled to
start toward the end of this month, will be the first time a ringtone is
promoted in this way.
MTV, which sells ringtones in a similar way, has plans to take the concept
further, according to the channel's internet and mobile manager, Matthew
Kershaw. The broadcaster is in the process of devising games around ringtones.
'We are looking at the idea of games involving ringtones that could be
co-sponsored by a brand. People seem to change ringtones like they change their
jeans, so it is an ideal opportunity for brands that want to get in bed with a
youth audience,' says Kershaw.
Channel 4 and most other operators currently charge via a premium-rate landline
number, but MTV is in the process of moving from this system to a reverse
billing system through the user's mobile phone account.
Aside from broadcasters, those already seeking to use ringtones to drive
marketing activity include record companies who are learning to use ringtones as
a way of promoting an artist. After initial uncertainty, the record industry
seems to have decided that getting a phrase from a new song heard as a ringtone
is a good way to help break a new product. In March, the Daily Star offered
readers a free Unchained Melody ringtone to promote a version of the song by Pop
Idol's Gareth Gates.
And other entertainment brands are catching on. Bernadette Lyons, UK managing
director of mobile services company Mobileway UK, says her company has worked
with the World Wrestling Foundation, for example.
'Each wrestler has an entrance theme that is played when they enter the ring.
The idea is that these could become ringtones,' she says.
Media companies are perhaps best placed to exploit ringtones, but as their
sophistication increases, it is likely that a wider selection of brands will
want to be involved. Indeed, there are signs that this is already happening.
Ringtone-led brand marketing activity has, for example, involved a giveaway of
ad jingle ringtones from web sites (see panel, p28), and ringtones have been
used as competition prizes by McDonald's, and tested by Lloyds TSB. The bank's
employees received an SMS to alert them to the start of a new TV campaign
followed by the ringtone from the ad.
Jacqui Church, digital strategist at Zenith interactive solutions, a division of
Lloyds TSB's media agency Zenith Media, anticipates that the use of ringtones
will become widespread and more creative. 'It is easy to see how an England
World Cup theme might make a good ringtone for one of the team's sponsors,' she
says. 'Can you imagine a whole stadium with everyone holding up their phones
playing your theme at the same time? It could be a good stunt.'
At the moment, ringtones are monophonic - they play one note at a time.
New phones will have polyphonic ringtones, but a more important development will
be the rise of phones that can play samples of digital music. Small digital
files of audio, such as a section from a hit recording or advertising jingle,
will be used as ringtones. Such sampled ringtones will typically be short bits
of music looped together.
Beatnik's Dolby is among those working with samples from pop songs to create
ringtones. The main riff from Booker T and the MG's hit from the 60s, Green
Onions, (associated with the BBC's cricket coverage for many years) is one
Currently, the distribution of a ringtone requires a fee to be paid to the
Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and Performing Rights Society, which
collect on behalf of the composers and publishers. But when the ringtones become
sampled pieces of recorded work such as pop songs, there will also need to be a
payment to the relevant record companies.
Despite the additional cost, Dolby sees much potential for the medium.
'The new ringtones will maintain the shrillness of the monophonic melody, but
have an arrangement that makes it sound richer with drums and accompanying
stuff. Brand managers are obviously going to be happier to be involved with
these better quality sounds,' he says. Hence, brands could produce ringtones
that are samples of their advertising jingles.
Phil Brown, managing director of Nokia UK - who already has a sample from Rock
and Roll by Led Zeppelin as his ringtone - believes that the extent of branded
ringtone activity will probably relate to the number of companies that make
music a big part of their brand activity. 'At Nokia, we used a particular type
of music to reinforce our brand from an early stage which eventually became a
ringtone. If brands use music in a big way, I am sure they will consider it as
important,' Brown says.
Not everyone is a fan of ringtone marketing, though. Nick Jankel-Elliott,
director of strategy and insight at digital marketing agency Happy Dog, which is
carrying out mobile work for Disney, thinks that ringtones can work against a
'Ringtones are essentially free - or at least there are plenty of places where
you can get them for free,' he says. 'As a brand, do you want to be associated
with things that can be found for free on some dodgy site?' Jankel-Elliot
believes that contrary to majority opinion, brands targeting the young should
not offer ringtones as, he says, tones have lost their 'hipness'. 'If your brand
is supposed to be cool and youthful, you lose credibility if you offer ringtones
which are frankly quite dull,' he says.
Chris Seth, media director at marketing agency Proximity London, thinks that
brands do need an existing relationship with music to avoid brand dissonance,
but that quite a lot of brands might find a way to get involved. 'In a
time-constrained world of media overload, ringtones give the opportunity to make
an impact and grab attention,' he says.
It seems likely that brands with a degree of credibility - entertainment,
clothing and cultural, for example - will have a good chance of extending their
equity into ringtones and get consumers to adopt them in the same way as they do
branded T-shirts. For other brands, though, activity may be more restricted,
maybe to specific events or promotions. A special Irish Rover St Patrick's Day
ringtone for Guinness, perhaps?
But Brown thinks it is more likely that branded ringtones will grow in
importance as a part of the whole marketing mix.
Indeed, a campaign just agreed for the latest Star Wars film will involve a
ringtone as well as a picture download and a special phone cover. 'If you are
interested, you will probably be able to get a similar package for Manchester
United,' Brown says.
Dolby suggests that people who can bear to have an ad jingle as their ringtone
might be offered discounted talktime in return, although enforcement could be a
Ringtones look set to become as important status symbols as mobile phones
themselves, with some people having a subsidised phone in return for using a
ringtone jingle, while others pay for something more exclusive. Either way,
keeping your head free of irritating melodic phrases in a public places looks as
though it is going to get a lot more difficult.
THE PHONES, THE PHONES ...
We asked a few digital personalities to reveal what rings their bells
My current ringtone is The Next Episode, taken from Dr Dre's album featuring
Snoop Doggy Dogg '2001'. My last ringtone was from the old Western, The
Magnificent Seven, composed by Elmer Bernstein
I have the Pac Man retro video game intro music on my phone at the moment. I'm
not sure if I should have admitted to that, but I only got it because we were
looking to offer ringtones at the Firebox site. It grew on me, so I kept it
Alas, as my mobile phone rings about 50 times most days, my ringtone options are
pretty limited: a quiet paging beep or a gentle vibe.
And so far I've avoided installing any of the graphics I keep being sent
My normal ringtone is a bluesy number, which I think sounds cool but irritates
everyone else. I have the Ride of the Valkyries for when my wife calls. This is
due to my love of Wagner and no reflection on my wife
HULA HOOPS PROVIDES RINGTONES FROM ITS TV AD ONLINE
Hula Hoops' web site (www.hulahoops.co.uk) is built around its puppet character,
The site, which launched in August, is run by integrated marketing agency
Billington Cartmell in association with technology company iTouch.
The web site is aimed at teenagers and offers picture messages, answer phone
messages, logos and text jokes as well as ringtones.
Everything can be sent between phones and the items sent publicise the site, as
they all include the Hula Hoops web address.
The site uses ringtones in two ways. First, the site links through to an iTouch
page, where users can buy a selection of ringtones.
Second, the site offers users a free download of the tune from the Hula Hoop ad
as a ringtone.
Ed Gray, account director at Billington Cartmell, says: 'I think we are the
first to offer a ringtone from an ad as a text download in this way. It works
well as the music on the ad is pretty funky.'
Gray says that 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a month are taking some kind of text
message from the site. He estimates this to be about 20 per cent of visitors.
'It is an additional brand involvement through the ringtone medium,' he adds.
FOX KIDS EUROPE OFFERS MEMBERS POPULAR THEME TUNES
Fox Kids Europe carried out research into mobile phone and SMS use among its
registered members (children aged eight to 13) last autumn.
The broadcaster discovered that 45 per cent of its male audience and 34 per cent
of its female audience use mobile phones, and that they use them primarily for
text messaging and downloading ringtones and logos.
It made sense for the company to make these services available on its web site
In January, Fox Kids Europe partnered with mobile services company m-Wise to
launch a raft of mobile services, including ringtones.
Kids can download the theme tunes of popular Fox Kids shows such as Hulk,
Digimon and Power Rangers. To do so they must text a specific code to Fox Kids'
'short number' and are charged pounds 1.50, which appears on their phone bills.
The service works on Nokia phones and on the Vodafone and O2 networks, but not
on pay-as-you-go phones.
Other mobile services offered on the site include 'moodswings', which allows
users to tailor their phone with a daily logo; interactive competitions and
'ticker tape' - messages sent to Fox Kids are displayed on the site and on the
company's interactive games channel, Fox Kids Play.
'SMS is a natural extension of the digital services we already supply to
children and our partnership with m-Wise enables us to offer interactive
entertainment to kids wherever they are,' says Natalie Tydeman, managing
director, online and interactive, at Fox Kids Europe.