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Mobile promos drop off McDonald's menu

The fast-food chain halts a marketing push that sent text messages to subscribers' cell phones, but the future still looks bright for such wireless promos.

McDonald's has pulled the plug on a pioneering marketing push based on text messaging, but the move doesn't bode ill for such campaigns, say analysts.

In the past few weeks, the fast food chain closed a free U.K. service that sent text messages about special deals to members' phones, according to a representative for marketing agency 12snap, which ran the campaign.

McDonald's decision to end the promotional push, one of the first to tap into text messaging, was part of an overall cut in European marketing budgets, said the 12snap representative. "They've looked at marketing across the board--not just mobile--and had to make some cuts," the representative said. "It was right last year, but not now."

Despite the McDonald's move, analysts weren't prepared to pronounce text-messaging marketing campaigns dead on arrival, given recently renewed interest from U.S. carriers in the new form of promotion.

"Ronald McDonald's failure doesn't mean the rest of the advertising clowns can't make it work," said analyst Alan Reiter of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing.

Although many are skeptical about the idea, wireless marketing has been getting the attention of major companies such as Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nike, Finlandia, Intel and Sun Microsystems. Mobile marketing is typically done in two ways: by delivering ads to cell phones' tiny screens and by placing branding on handset cases.

In the case of McDonald's, the free service filled cell phone in-boxes with specials--such as two burgers for the price of one--that were available only to U.K. club members.

The burger restaurant chain intends to continue using wireless e-mails to lure in customers, but will instead opt for one-off campaigns, like the one it conducted alongside the movie "Monsters, Inc." In that promotion, customers sent text messages to McDonald's with a numerical code found on beverage containers to see if they had won a prizes.

McDonald's did not return calls for comment.

The company still has plans to to devote more money to digital marketing, possibly at the level of the millions of dollars it spends on TV commercials. One of the 20 biggest advertisers in the United States, McDonald's said it's aiming to reach the growing number of its customers who are cozying up to the computer rather than to the TV screen--particularly the younger generations.