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Doug Krizner: You've heard 'em. From songs to sound effects, ring tones are a big business. Now companies are using promotional tones to ring up more sales. Curt Nickisch reports from WBUR in Boston.
Curt Nickisch: Say you're the head of a marketing campaign for a big retailer. Say you want to create buzz around your product by letting customers download ring tones.
Then maybe you should take a lesson from retail politics:
[ Ring tone: "Obama, Obama, oh!" ]
That's just one of the free ring tones created by Barack Obama supporters that you can download from his website. Soon after they went online, Jon Stewart's Daily Show made fun of the marketing.
[ Jon Stewart: Oh, yeah! You know, I'm sorry but novelty cell phone rings are not gonna get anyone elected president. ]
Right after the show, though, hundreds of people started downloading them.
To help users install them onto their cell phones, the Obama campaign hired the small Boston company mStyle. Tech Director Nick Bogovich says Obama has to be pleased with the more than 6,000 downloads so far.
Nick Bogovich: In the end, he's trying to sell you a vote. So, he's hoping you'll download the ring tone and you'll talk about it with your friends. If he gets one vote out of all of those downloads, that's a victory.
Normally, mStyle pushes ring tone jingles for Fortune 500 corporations, ranging from pizza companies to Big Oil.
[ BR ring tone: Say hey! Make the day a little better. Say hey! Make the world . . . ]
But Bogovich says more people are downloading Obama ring tones than many corporate ones.
Bogovich: It's a different play. Politicians like Obama or Clinton, Romney, sort of have more attention than pizza companies right now.
Larry Weber: We're seeing it all over the place: big companies making mistakes when it comes to social media and social marketing.
That's Larry Weber. He just wrote a book on "Marketing to the Social Web." He says too many companies are trying to force feed content. Weber says the Obama campaign's doing right by letting supporters create the ring tones.
Weber: You know, branding, in this day and age, is all about the dialogue you have with your customers. That's what the Obama campaign figured out. Engage first, get money later.
And Weber says that's what companies have to do now.
In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.