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Mobile Operator Profile: Turkcell
Putting Mobile Marketing At The Center
Of The Business

turkcell_logo.gifThe Turkish mobile market is one of the most dynamic in the world: a population of over 70 million with mobile penetration growing from 52% in 2005 to 100% today.

Turkcell is the largest mobile operator in Turkey, with 37 million subs. They have been very innovative in the area of mobile advertising and marketing, with their “Tone and Win” service winning this year’s GSMA award for “Best Mobile Advertising Service“.

In this interview, Chief Value Added Services Officer Cenk Serdar talks about the Turkish market and why Turkcell has put mobile marketing at the center of their business.

The Turkish Market: Young and Tech Savvy

Turkey has the second largest population in Europe, and it is also a very young country. The average age is only 28, and over a quarter of the country is aged 14 or younger.

In general, the Turks love their mobile phones and new mobile services are rapidly adopted. However, although the population is generally tech savvy, many people do not have much disposable available. So in the past, Turkcell has found that it can be difficult to earn much money if they charge for a service.

… and Price Sensitive

turkcell_cenk_face.gifAs an example, Cenk talked about their experience with Microsoft Messenger service. The available target market in Turkey is the 4 million handsets that run Windows Mobile OS. Turkcell did a 3-month, free promotional launch of the service, and within the 3 months had signed up 1.5 million active users. This was cited by Microsoft as one of the fastest launches of messenger anywhere.

At the end of the 3 months, the promotion finished and the price went to 6 YTL (less than $5). Cenk described the situation, “People knew the service, they had downloaded it, they liked it, they had used it. You would think that someone would be willing to pay for this.”

However, when the promotion ended, Microsoft Messenger users fell from 1.5 million users to 25,000 – a drop of over 98%!

Cenk concludes, “Customers are so price sensitive, there is a huge difference between charging nothing and charging even a couple of dollars.”

Everything Will Be Data

Cenk believes there are some other fundamental long-term reasons why mobile advertising and marketing will have to become a major business for operators. He points out that the current trend is that everything mobile is moving to broadband, even voice services, and gives the example of the growth of Skype in the mobile space: it has been pre-installed on some 3-UK handsets for awhile, Nokia just announced a deal to include Skype on their handsets, and a Skype application for iPhone was recently released.

turkcell_quote1.gif“In the long run, customers are not going to be paying for voice separately – it’s all going to be a data package and voice will be included. And actually, the next step beyond that will probably be that the data charges will also be paid by someone else (e.g. paid by a brand through advertising).”

So these are the underlying reasons that have driven Turkcell into mobile advertising: the need to offer free or low cost services, and the eventual erosion of other revenue streams.

“A year ago, we started putting mobile advertising and marketing very much at the center of our business. These are the reasons why we put a lot of our energy and resources behind it.”

“Tone and Win” (Tonla Kazan)

Turkcell’s plan is to launch a lot of innovative services, knowing that some will fly and some will not. You never know ahead of time, so it is important to experiment.

turkcell_tonlakazan.gifOne new service is “Tone and Win“, which takes advantage of one of a mobile operator’s basic assets – a voice call.

Between when the call is placed and when the person picks up, there is a time period which is idle. Cenk says, “We can fill this time with a marketing service which is not intrusive, and in fact, if we do it right, it might be enjoyable for the customer who is calling.”

Basically a subscriber enrolls in the Tone and Win service, and then when someone calls them, the caller will hear a marketing message instead of a standard ringtone. The subscriber earns credits depending on how many callers they receive that listen to the messages. The credits can be used for voice minutes or to purchase other data services from Turkcell.

turkcell_gsma_award.gifThis service has been very successful, and Turkcell has great plans for it in the future. “Tone & Win” also recently won the GSMA’s “Best Mobile Advertising Service” award.

Benefits For Brands

The benefits to the subscriber are quite clear – free minutes and services. But Turkcell realizes that there also has to be a very compelling story to the brands if this service is to work well.

Cenk cites 5 main reasons why these services work well for brands.

  • First, the caller is captive, there is no competing advertising. They are are making a phone call so they are actively listening to their phone at that moment.
  • Second, the operator usually knows the demographic profile of the calling customer, and so can select the most relevant ad to play*.

    Clearly Turkcell would only know the caller’s profile if they are also a Turkcell customer. However Turkcell has found that over 90% of calls are “on net”, so usually they do know the caller’s profile (one of the benefits of a 56% market share!).

    The service is set up so that in fact the brand is only charged for the ad if the caller is also from Turkcell; if the caller is from some other network, the advertising message is still played, but the brand is not charged for it.

  • Third, Turkcell knows not only the demographic profile of the customer, but over time is developing a profile of the caller’s propensity of interest, based on responses to this and other services.
  • Fourth, this service is very measurable. Turkcell can provide full reports on how many people listened, how long, where they were from, actions taken, etc. All the data is available to the operator, and is very valuable to advertisers.
  • Finally, the service can be used not only for branding and building awareness, but also for direct selling of products. For example, during the advertising message, the caller can be given the option to press a key to get additional information, be connected to a call center, etc.*

Cenk concludes, “You can see that everything works for the brands, so getting brands on board has actually been pretty easy”. In 2008 50 brands ran campaigns on the Tone and Win service, including Coke, Pepsi, P&G, Nestle, and most of Turkey’s biggest banks.


Tone and Win screen showing the available ringback advertisements. Some of the brands are AXE (P&G), BurgerKing, Turkcell, Total (petroleum), Mentos, and Yapi Kredi (a large Turkish bank).

An example of a successful targeted advertising campaign created through Tone & Win was the November 2008 campaign by Warner Bros for the James Bond film Quantum Of Solace. Only Tone & Win members who were between the ages of 13-54, male, and living in the 26 Turkish cities where the movie launched could select this ringback tone, thus concentrating the advertising message on the preferred customers in the target markets.

Opt-In Mobile Marketing

Turkcell also runs several other mobile marketing services that have proved successful.

One of the best known is the “opt-in database” which now has over 7.5 million subscribers. Basically, customers agree to receive marketing messages, with the promise that the messages will be relevant and will offer good deals on interesting products.

turkcell_quote2.gifTurkcell of course never shares individual information, but they will do profiling and targeting to setup a specific target group for a brand, sometimes as small as 5,000 to 10,000 people. And the returns are great, with response rates usually running from 5% up to 25%.

Turkcell has found that many brands, especially banks, are using this type of marketing because the results are very measurable rather than TV where you never really know if there are sales generated.

“The beauty is that we can target the customer and bring the right message to them. More and more brands are preferring this channel, because these days it’s not about generating awareness and excitement, it’s about generating real sales. And this is a perfect channel to generate sales,” say Cenk.

Selling Mobile Marketing

Turkcell sells mobile marketing services both directly and through partners.

There is a network of 22 mobile marketing agencies who are closely linked to the Turkcell mobile marketing team and who are paid on a performance based revenue-sharing model. Cenk say, “These companies are specialized in mobile marketing, so we have found they are more successful at selling than any other media agency.”

When Turkcell sells mobile marketing directly to its major accounts, the activity is integrated with other sales efforts – corporate account managers and mobile marketing account managers often visit the customers together. In fact, some of the mobile marketing agreements are worked out directly between the “C” level managers at the customers and Turkcell. So this is a subject that is getting a very high level of attention.

And mobile marketing is proving to be a good business for Turkcell. They now have a number of major Turkish corporate customers where the revenue from mobile marketing is greater than the revenue from all other Turkcell services combined: voice services, internet services, Blackberry services, etc.

Global Economic Slowdown

Cenk believes that the global economic problems have effected the mobile content business in Turkey, but not drastically. On the other hand, mobile marketing looks like it will be positively effected by the economic problems. “This is primarily because mobile is so much less expensive than TV, but with very good results.”

turkcell_quote4.gifHe cites the example of a real estate development firm that ran an outbound “targeted IVR” campaign (another service offered by Turkcell) and managed to sell 18 apartments worth a total of $5million. The campaign investment was less than $100,000, so it was a very successful effort.

The Future

Cenk concluded the interview with a few thoughts on the the future.

turkcell_quote3.gif“When I look ahead, I see lots of opportunity. Instead of people complaining and talking about why mobile marketing doesn’t work, they should come to countries where it really works. There are so many ways to do this if you really understand the customers’ needs, and then combine it with your mobile assets.”

“From our perspective, we feel really great about mobile advertising, we think now the time has come. When you work mobile marketing at the C level – the CEOs and CMO’s – then you can get the budgets allocated. We see that brands are building mobile into their budgets at a very early stage, and we think our revenues in 2009 might double from 2008.”


This interview took place at the Mobile World Congress, February 2009. Since that time Cenk Serdar has announced that he will be moving to a new position with Vodafone, based in the UK.

* these 2 features are in the platform and will go live within a few months.

28.04.2009    Tags: , , ,
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