Mobile marketing takes to the streets of Whitehorse

Who said that treasure hunts were only for pirates and small children? Texthorse, Whitehorse's first text-messaging game, aims to show that anyone with a cellphone and fast fingers can get in on the action.

Who said that treasure hunts were only for pirates and small children?

Texthorse, Whitehorse’s first text-messaging game, aims to show that anyone with a cellphone and fast fingers can get in on the action.

The game will direct 50 players using text messages to seek out clues throughout the city over a five-week period.

Players will compete for prizes and several grand prizes (an iPod touch may be thrown in as one of these prizes) will be awarded to the player with the most points.

Bonus points and trivia questions will also be hidden around Whitehorse, turning the city into one giant game.

“Cellphone treasure hunts are pretty popular in Europe and Russia, believe it or not,” said organizer Andrew Robulack.

“They get really hardcore in Russia though, like long-term, remote areas … they’re much more extravagant than what we’re going to do.”

In London, text-messaging games are used for tourism.

Instead of riding around on the top of a double-decker bus, listening to a monotone voice ramble on about Parliament, tourists can follow clues around the city from landmark to landmark.

It’s an idea that’s been made popular by the Amazing Race, a reality TV game show where pairs race each other around the world.

The game adds a bit of excitement that may get a new generation of traveller out of the pub and into the local historic sites.

But there hasn’t been as much interest in these types of events in North America.

Texthorse also has its roots in the recent phenomenon known as the flash mob.

Using text messaging, Facebook or viral e-mails, a large group of people assemble suddenly in a public place, perform something unusual and then quickly disperse.

Some notable flash mobs include public pillow fights and dance parties.

Robulack doesn’t want to spoil the surprise, but activities similar to flash mobs may occur during the five-week event.

“I think that’s part of the element of fun they don’t know where they’re going next,” he said.

“And businesses don’t know what to expect either. A lot of this is experimental.”

One of the main reasons for Texthorse is to experiment with the possibilities for mobile marketing in the North.

“Mobile marketing is huge in other parts of the world,” said Robulack.

“It’s nonexistent here.”

Text messaging can be used to get information out to customers quickly and effectively.

And it can be used to get people into a store quickly too.

If a cafe or bakery has some food that’s going to have to be thrown out at the end of the day, they can send out a quick message offering customers a large discount.

The food won’t go to waste, and who knows, those who show up might even be enticed to buy something else.

Texthorse will be fun for all ages, but it is directed at a younger demographic, between the ages of 13 and 24, said Robulack.

Marketing this age group can be difficult.

They don’t respond to print, radio or even TV advertising.

“This is a really savvy group of people,” said Robulack.

“I look at my son and he’s been advertised to since he escaped the womb – the first thing the nurses did was put a Sesame Street diaper on him.

“The spirit of texthorse is commercial, but I want to find a way to re-engage these people and make it fun.”

Businesses that target that younger demographic are really enthusiastic about the idea, he said.

Other businesses are left scratching their heads.

“It’s like when I used to try to sell websites back in ‘94, everyone would ask, ‘What do I want a website for?’” said Robulack.

“It’s the same type of resistance with businesses now.”

Texthorse will be free and at this point there are no sponsors.

The only thing businesses are asked to do is give participants some sort of free gift when they enter the store – something small like a muffin or a T-shirt.

Businesses aren’t the only ones to benefit from mobile marketing.

Emergency information systems could be greatly improved by adding text messaging.

If Yukon Energy had a system to communicate with customers that was text-message based they could communicate better with their customers in the event of an outage.

Why did the power go down? How long before it goes back up? The corporation could answer these important questions quickly.

Right now, Yukon Energy has a blog to communicate with customers, “which is completely useless if you don’t have power,” said Robulack.

“The mobile infrastructure is probably the most resilient infrastructure. It’s a dependable way to get information out in a pinch.”

Politicians may also be watching to see if Texthorse is a hit with Yukoners.

Some believe that Barack Obama won the US election last year because of his use of technology, such as text messaging.

“I would deem it a success if they just play and have a good time,” said Robulack.

“If the game is inspiring enough that they respond to the messages and arrive at the locations I’ll be happy.”

The registration process will be revealed this Friday to fans on Facebook.

To become a fan, potential players should visit http://texthorse.com/facebook.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com