Couponing in the mobile wireless space could make a comeback if a partnership between mobile marketing company MyThum Interactive and Givex Corp. proves successful. The two companies inked an agreement on April 5 that they hope will combine the benefits of loyalty programs with SMS to being able to offer wireless subscribers discounts through e-coupons sent to their handsets.  The deal calls for the two companies to jointly offer the Mx-Coupon program – a method of delivering redeemable coupons through text messaging.  More than four years ago, SUMmedia.com Inc. came out to the market with e-coupon for wireless operators. The plan was to deliver coupons to wireless subscribers who would then redeem them at retailers with the first targeting being Hong Kong. The company also operated an Internet coupon portal at www.savingumoney.com. The site is still in operation.  In a July 2000 interview a company representative told Report on Wireless that while it was difficult to estimate market potential, short-term revenue was going to be in the multi-million dollar range. Four years later, the company is no longer in the business of e-coupons.  Loyalty cards ubiquitous The difference today from five years ago is that loyalty cards are ubiquitous and nearly every retailer has some sort of program to entice customers to make return visits. Offering "coupons" via text messaging to mobile phones is just another way of extending loyalty programs into the wireless world.  Michael Brown, director of marketing and business development for MyThum Interactive, says retailers have developed sophisticated ways of tracking customers’ purchasing habits and using this information to keep them as customers. Moving into the mobile space is a natural fit. "What (a loyalty card) really is is a way for you to carry around a number, and in this case, it’s a bar code. When you go into buy something at a point of sale, you just present your number. The card itself is not necessarily carrying any value. It became interesting (in our discussions with Givex) when we started to say, well, that’s one way for people to carry a number around, but the mobile phone is another way, and there’s all sorts of reasons why that might be a better way. Your phone is always with you. Where it will eventually become interesting is when we’re able to put bar codes onto the phone itself," Brown says.  There are currently issues associated with putting bar codes onto the phones, despite it being technically feasible, and so MyThum has opted to begin its push to market using more ubiquitous SMS technology. "To make a long story short, we’re putting it into a text message…and then, as part of a mobile campaign, we can kind of build this in as a whole new layer of value for the customer," says Brown.  No campaigns have been lined up for the Mx-Coupon program as of yet, but there is hope some will be come together by the end of this year. With mass market appeal and potential huge, Brown says the company had to move to take advantage of this opportunity.  Givex an important partner "It was really important for us to work with Givex. There’s no better company to work with in Canada because they’ve got so many of the existing point of sale systems with these retailers. Givex has a lot of partners in the U.S. as well. So it’s an exciting time and the response to that media release has been, I think, a really good indication (that) even though we could have done this a year ago, it was probably worth waiting because it’s taken a while for people to get their heads around the mobile space. Now that they’re getting it, they’re starting to see the value in doing this type of thing," says Brown.  The timing of the agreement between MyThum and Givex shows that mobile marketing has been somewhat slow to take off in Canada, but generally speaking the deal provides some validation to the earlier promise of marketing in the mobile space. With text messaging levels experiencing significant increases as each month passes, the opportunity for combining mobile coupons with SMS seems ripe for the picking.  As the promise of WAP was to have provided similar opportunities for wireless coupons about five years ago, using SMS and loyalty programs to market coupons to the handset is no sure thing. But since SMS and short codes have been a mainstay in broadcasting interactivity, there is no reason to believe the same shouldn’t hold true with respect to wireless coupons. Canadians have shown they are willing to adopt SMS and have been in increasingly larger numbers.  The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association recently reported that there are approximately 3.5 million mobile to mobile text messages sent on a daily basis in Canada. With this fact in mind, mobile coupons sent via SMS to wireless users should have at least a respectable level of success in Canada.