USA Today announced a partnership with 4INFO, a text message information service, to provide targeted ads via text messages that USA Today readers can request on their cell phones for updated information on sports, stocks, weather and other such data. USA Today concedes that their average 44 year old user isn’t currently a big user of text messaging, but they are betting that they can change that behavior. Text messaging is certainly a viable media platform for the younger demographic that texts constantly, but can it work for older users, i.e. anyone over 25?

“Typically our readers don’t text message,” said Matt Jones, director of mobile strategy and operations for Gannett Digital, a unit of USA Today parent, Gannett Co. “That’s something their kids do. We’re trying to introduce the value proposition of these types of services and how they can be … relevant for someone who’s not 17 years old.”

Tellingly, USA Today is actually running ads in the print edition to encourage use of the text messaging information service. If you go to the USA Today sports section online, you’ll see this:

USA Today Sports Section

I do think it’s possible to teach old users new tricks — although I think it’s much more instinctive for the average web user to try to access a site via a cell phone’s web browser, i.e. the same way they do on their computer, than through an automated text message response system.

The following data from Big Research is a couple of years old, but I’d guess it’s still representative of current age distribution of text messaging use:

Text Messaging Big Research

Still, the larger barrier, as with all mobile platforms, may be the wireless carrier. I just signed up for new service with Verizon with a new Blackberry. The Verizon store clerk asked me how much text messaging I do, teeing me up to sign up for text messaging service. I said, well, none, hence the Blackberry. I already knew to say no because I had looked up the cost:

Verizon Text Messaging Packages

If you don’t commit to at least $10/month, you’re committing to $0.15/message, which can add up quickly. The problem is that with unlimited data on Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO network, it seems a bit primitive to pay to get information through a text messaging service.

4INFO, the service supporting USA Today, concedes the cost issue in their FAQ:

It is free to use 4INFO’s search service. However, your mobile phone carrier may charge you for text messaging. As a result, you are liable for any cell phone charges incurred as a result of using 4INFO’s services. Please consult your mobile service carrier’s price structure to determine your cost for data services.

For younger users who are already text messaging their friends, and who therefore likely have a text messaging package with their wireless carrier already, there is probably significant potential for text message-based information services and advertising. But for older users who don’t use text messaging, I have a hard time seeing this scaling.

Still, it’s probably worthwhile for USA Today to test this out, because it’s the only way to find for sure whether real people will adopt new platforms and new media behavior. In such a rapidly changing media world, testing out new platforms with real people is likely to be a whole lot less costly than missing opportunities based on blind speculation.