By Leigh Andrews

MXit was judged the coolest website and social networking service facility in this year"s Sunday Times Generation NeXt survey, conducted by HDI Youth Marketeers in partnership with the Sunday Times, and supported by Monash South Africa. There have been a few horror stories in the media about teens running away to meet older men they’ve met on MXit, but the platform has clear online safety rules posted on the website – for both the young users and their parents to stick to. MXit is overwhelmingly popular among the youth market, and a key player in the mobile media sector. Naspers acquired a 30% stake in MXit in October 2006. It is therefore a prime advertising platform for reaching the lucrative South African youth market which has access to its own money, and freely exerts influence over its parents in how they spend their money.

What is MXit?

MXit started out in 2005 as a free mobile instant messenger program for mobile phones which provides access to virtual communities. MXit has since released a PC Beta version for users to ‘give their thumbs a break’. This PC version includes access to information, the gallery, Joe Banker, and Tradepost. This means that users can chat to other MXit users on their mobile phones or PCs anywhere in the world via the internet through GPRS or 3G, rather than by standard SMS technology. Users can chat with up to 1 000 characters at a time, at a fraction of the cost of a standard SMS. In addition to basic chat services, MXit offers users the chance to meet people, play games and customise their phones. The latest MXit version V5.6.3 allows users to tab control for chat screens, make calls using MXit, and includes more text markups and a faster start up and log in.

Trading on Tradepost

MXit is a very effective marketing tool as it's an affordable, instant means of communication. Users can embark on ‘business transactions’ with Tradepost, which is effectively a menu or place to trade by browsing around for anything that takes your fancy. The Trader keeps in regular contact with the user, providing information about the latest goodies and competitions available on MXit. Tradepost provides a list of available services, ranging from news reviews (both local and international); to movie reviews and times; horoscopes and more. Services are paid for in moola, which is official MXit virtual currency- 1 moola is equivalent to 1 cent. Tradepost offers users emoticards, skinz, MXit games and roleplaying games, Trivit (a general knowledge test), chat rooms and grown up chatrooms, geographical, topical, flirt, teen and celebrity chat zones (Mandoza, Danny K, Colin Moss, Freshly Ground, Karen Zoid and Lee-Ann Liebenberg have already featured), as well as a dating game, weather updates and career tips.

Advertising on MXit

Moneyweb quotes Paul Stemmet, MXit's General Manager as saying MXit has roughly 7.5-million users, of which 6.5-million are in South Africa. The 18-25 age bracket hold the lions’ share (60%) of the MXit user market. The audience is made up of people from all age and race groups, and from all LSM brackets. This makes for a potentially lucrative market that can be targeted based on their individual profiles. MXit makes youth-related information and services available to millions of people. Part of the effectiveness and likeability of MXit’s advertising is that it's all entirely opt-in or permission marketing, meaning users are not spammed with unnecessary, irrelevant advertising. If MXit users want your information and services, you become part of the MXit world, as the users then choose to add you as a personal contact on MXit. This is a clear example of social media marketing, as MXit users can become part of the advertiser’s world, and interact directly with the marketer.

Advertisers are listed under MXit Mix, where their information is available to the passing trade. This includes straight text info; links to download content directly onto mobile phones; feedback forms where marketers ask questions for users to respond to; and cellphone advertising skinz - a fantastic branding opportunity. Splash Screen Advertising helps spread the word once an advertiser’s link is live. A splash ad is a static graphic that displays for five seconds when logging into MXit. In November 2007, the inventory was in the region of six million views per day. Selection criteria, including gender and age, can be used to target specific market segments. Users can only receive one splash ad at a time- similar to radio or TV commercials. MXit Skinz function as personalized themes for MXit users. They can also be designed based on specific graphics, based on a brand’s logo or specific promotional campaign, and should be relevant and current. Idols and Shrek skinz have proven highly popular. The skinz are listed on Tradepost for sale to users, which enhances the advertiser’s corporate identity and recognition. Advertisers can also sponsor Tradepost Treasure competitions, where MXit sends out a Tradepost message every day for up to seven days, where the advertiser is acknowledged as the sponsor of the competition.

Using the database of users who subscribe to a particular service or chat room, companies can embark on targeted two-way communication by sending out questionnaires to specific people, and getting feedback from them. As an added advertising opportunity, Your Zone allows advertisers to host a chat zone with 50 or 100 rooms. The chat rooms your chat zone comprises can be named to suit a particular brand, product, or campaign. The creator can also create their own virtual commands and enter any chat room (even if it's full) as they have ‘moderator’ status for the rooms they create. Advertisers on MXit have enjoyed huge success through having space to create their own branded contact, meaning they can encourage thousands of people to interact with their brand, out of choice.

The following well-known South African brands have links on MXit:
*Ster-Kinekor has a MXit contact which provides information on movies, including where and when they are showing.
*Peugeot used MXit as part of its launch campaign for the Peugeot 107. This was a supplement to its web campaign, which included a competition for the best decal design for the car. Elements from the five winning designs were used to create limited edition skinz.
*The iDrive contact on MXit is a resource for finding trusted and licensed driving schools and driving instructors. One navigates through the menus to find an instructor closest to where one lives, then enters one’s mobile phone number or email address to receive the instructor’s contact details.
*The Quiksilver/Roxy contact keeps you posted on the company’s countrywide events.
*The TVPlus contact offers the latest TV and celebrity news, as well as access to daily gossip updates, TV alerts, soapie information, and skinz.
*The Big Concerts MXit contact provides information on all events and artists organised by Big Concerts.
*MOBmix, another contact that can be added from MXit Mix, is packed with downloadable content, ranging from mobcasts (mobile broadcasts) to ring tones, songs and videos.

CASE STUDY: The Engen Endless Summer Campaign
The Engen Endless Summer Campaign ran in December 2007. The campaign targeted 11 to 18 year olds, with the aim of keeping kids busy on the back seat, and getting them to pester their parents to stop at the next Engen convenience store. Splash screen advertising and hosted chat zone features were used. Keywords, found on forecourt posters along all the holiday routes throughout the summer holidays, were entered into the Endless Summer chat zone or mobile site. Each keyword entitled users to a different download, ranging from mobile wallpapers to ringtones and games. The keyword instructions were only mentioned on the MXit site. This spread the viral element of the campaign, as kids knew what the keywords meant, but their parents did not. 10 000 users added the Endless Summer contact on MXit. Over three million messages appeared in the chat zone, and over 12 000 downloads took place over six weeks. Chat room moderators spoke to kids in the chat rooms, motivating more downloads, and secret keywords were given out at certain times. The Engen Endless Summer campaign, conceptualised by At Play, of Saatchi and Saatchi won a Gold Loerie Award for Mixed Digital Media Campaign.

The future

MXit Music broke South African music convention with the first ever launch of an album through a mobile phone earlier this year. MXit Music users can hear the latest hot hits first hand, vote on the songs, and find out what"s happening in the lives of their favourite bands. There are now limited edition MXit tee-shirts available on, and one can add MXit applications to their Facebook profile. With the capacity to serve 12-million ads a day, an entire MXit clothing range, and MXit TV – to be based solely on consumer generated content – in the pipeline, the marketing possibilities are endless.