Turning Shopping into Advocacy via a Mobile Phone

Posted by CorinneRamey on Jan 22, 2008

Ever wondered how Walmart ranks when it comes to supporting gay and lesbian employment equality? What about Starbucks, Coca-Cola, or Microsoft? Employment equality is an issue that the gay and lesbian community has advocated for for years. It has now moved into the cellphone age with point-of-purchase company information for conscious consumers. The U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign recently launched a new tool: An SMS buyers guide that that brings instant information about businesses' support of gay and lesbian equality straight to your mobile phone.

Dane Grams, online strategy director of Human Rights Campaign, sat down with MobileActive for a chat about HRC's new Corporate Equality Index and mobile phone strategy. The HRC guide, Buying for Equality, isn't new -- the organization has been releasing the guide since 2002 -- but this is the first year that HRC has made the guide accessible via mobile phone. The guide includes evaluations of more than 500 companies. The scores of the businesses included in the guide are factors such as existence of domestic partner benefits, non-discrimination policies, and inclusion of transgender people. According to the HRC, 195 companies received a perfect score on the index, an increase from 138 companies last year.

Dane said that the idea for the service came out of the desire to make the buying guide more accessible to HRC's supporters. "We wanted something that people would actually use and would be a real life application," said Dane. "We want to tell people what the best businesses are and help people to spend their money." One of the appeals of the service, he said, is that users can text in "just in time" -- whether at the mall, before making an online purchase, or when trying to choose a restaurant. "If you're at the mall, and you're going to RadioShack, you can find out that RadioShack isn't such a great company and you can go to Sears," said Dane.

To use the service, text "SHOP" and the name of a business to short code 30644. The service then responds with a text message with the business' corporate equality rating. For example, texting "SHOP Walmart" results in the following text message:

"This business receives a 40% on the HRC Corporate Equality Index for its limited GLBT policies & practices. Support a fairer business if possible."

The service is still new - it was launched in December -- and so far has had only about 175 queries, said Dane. He said that top searches have included Target, Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Sunoco, Exxon-Mobile, Coca-Cola, Cracker Barrel, Circuit City, and Burger King. The server includes several different spellings for businesses -- for example, both Wal-mart and Walmart will receive a text response -- and Dane said that most queries have received responses. The service has been marketed through a press release, an ad in the HRC magazine Equality, and several interviews.

The mobile buyers guide is part of HRC's larger mobile strategy, which the organization began working on this past August. There are currently 7,640 members in the HRC "Mobile Action Network." The organization sends out action alerts and has plans for other features -- such as polls and ratings for members of Congress -- that it may implement in the future. Text messages sent to the list have included a request to call Congressmembers regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a New Year's greeting sent at 12:01 on January 1. HRC's vendor is Mobile Commons with consulting help from MSHC Partners.

SMS information channels are increasingly the rage for just-in-time informaion for the savvy omni-consumer. According to recent IBM consumer research, this information is increasingly influencing buying behaviour. Fifty-three percent of consumers surveyed by IBM used the Internet to compare features and prices among retailers in the 2006 holiday season. Two-third of teens surveyed said they use cell phones to text friends while shopping for input, and 25 percent accessed the Internet from a mobile device while in a store. And an astonishing one in ten consumers reached out to friends and family via text message while shopping to get input.

Dane hopes to use mobile phone communications to enhance the Human Rights Campaign's current communications strategies, especially to reach younger supporters. "Who knows if the mobile phone will ever be the primary communication vehicle for an organization and its members—but we at HRC would like to stay ahead of the curve," he said.

Human rights campaign corporate equality index image

fish phone & healthy toys


Also great uses of mobile for consumer education:

Text 30644 on your cell phone with the message "FISH" and the name of a fish to get info on the enviro impact and safety of the fish in question.

Text "healthytoys [name of a toy]" to 41411 to get the toxic chemical test results from healthytoys.com sent to your phone. (service provided by MomsRising.org)

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