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Clarks is set to start a marketing campaign that uses OTT messaging service WhatsApp to tell the story of the Desert Boot. And it is an interesting tale: invented for the Desert Rats, popularised by Nathan Clark in the 1950s and the start of what today is the £1.5billion Clarks Group, the story takes us through how it is the shoe of choice of the mods, the skins and M-Retailing’s editor.

But while the message is interesting, the medium is what really interests me. Welcome to the World of Dark Social media marketing.

OK, so you all know about WhatsApp – so why is it Dark? Well, its pretty much the untapped realms of where people hang out that marketers, until now, have feared to tread. Well, they haven’t avoided it through fear, more that it’s hard to know how to tap it.

Social media marketing is pretty well understood, even if the returns are very hard to quantify. But the use of messaging services such as WhatsApp that have a social element to them, but are private between individuals and groups, is a Dark art and they are known as Dark Social because no one has really found a way to commercially illuminate them.

Clarks is making a really bold move in trying to unlock this untapped area of communication to create a fascinating campaign. The gist of how it works is outlined in our story, but in essence the campaign relies on people who dig Desert Boots marching over to WhatsApp and joining a special group. There they will get messages, videos, images and more that tell the story.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First up, it relies on traditional social media to get people to head towards the Clarks’ WhatsApp group, which in turn relies on really old school web, email and traditional advertising to drive people to sign up (marketing is getting ever more like an onion).

Secondly, using WhatsApp means that the campaign is entirely mobile, which shows how important – or rather how entrenched – mobile is to marketing thinking for retailers.

And thirdly, the programme is looking to engage consumers on a whole new and seemingly very personal level, using a mobile messaging technology that will really let Clarks talk to a select group of people about a very specific subject. It’s like the 2015 equivalent of a specialised Fanzine.

The move is all the more fascinating as, like most retailers, Clarks has bypassed using SMS and MMS marketing and gone straight to this, an OTT messaging solution.

It exploits all the rich content delivery that WhatsApp has to offer but it has the whiff of the modern about it. SMS and MMS can deliver the same, but they no way have the same cool credentials as a WhatsApp campaign.

But what is the real significance? Clarks will not the only retailer to do this in the next few months, so watch out for a raft of WhatsApp, Viber and other Dark Social campaigns. But will this in itself kill this off before its even started? I mean how many WhatsApp groups would you want to be a member of?

While its very interesting – and hats off to Clarks for embracing Dark Social – it could well be that it is a one off rather than the beginning of a long standing role for these channels in the marketing mix. It will be interesting to see if more companies do this and what success (or not) each has. But, lighting up Dark Social media is clearly something to watch in mobile marketing circles as 2015 unfurls.

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