NEWS ANALYSIS: Behind WAP’s up-to-date image lurks clumsy ad adolescence - It may be some time before WAP evolves into a viable ad medium, says Mark Tungate

Over the last six or eight months, WAP has come from nowhere to become the most fashionable media buzzword. Emap Online and First Resort have just joined the select band of online publishers that are already providing WAP content (Media Business, last week). But is wireless application protocol worth the tiny screen it’s written on? Or is it is all promise and no delivery?

Over the last six or eight months, WAP has come from nowhere to

become the most fashionable media buzzword. Emap Online and First Resort

have just joined the select band of online publishers that are already

providing WAP content (Media Business, last week). But is wireless

application protocol worth the tiny screen it’s written on? Or is it is

all promise and no delivery?



Peter Wilson, sales manager at online sales house TSMSi, is

scathing.



’At the moment, WAP is only handy if you want to advertise to people

working for Nokia or the Carphone Warehouse. It’s just a positioning

tool for sales houses and advertisers - ’we’re fantastic because we can

do WAP’. It generates very little in the way of revenue or impact. Few

people have WAP phones, and those that do have such high expectations

that they can only be disappointed.’



Even rival sales house 24/7, which has a WAP project group, is aware of

the medium’s limitations. ’It’s very simplistic and text-bound, and in

straight ad terms there isn’t a huge amount of scope at the moment,’

admits sales director Mark Nall. ’But we’ve done things like serving a

60-character text link at the bottom of content. And for men’s clothing

site Dressmart, we placed a logo that linked to a list of brands it had

in stock.’



Nall accepts that many advertisers see WAP as an opportunity to appear

cutting-edge, rather than being attracted to any practical benefits.

’But that’s simplifying matters. What we’re doing is learning the

mechanics of advertising in a new digital environment.’



No doubt WAP will come into its own when the technology develops and

users increase. But according to Wilson, the latter could be dependent

on cost. ’Right now you have to pay to access online information via

your mobile, which seems ludicrous when you can get it for free on your

PC. If WAP content providers want to expand the number of users, they’ve

got to make it less expensive.’



So what do the punters think? Freelance technology writer Robin Eggar

comments: ’You can’t seriously send an e-mail but I like the news

service - the phone beeps when you get a bulletin. I was definitely one

of the first people to find out about the knife in the Stephen Lawrence

investigation.’



But he is dubious about WAP’s usefulness as an advertising medium. ’If I

started getting ads I’d be very, very irritated.’



Nall agrees that WAP advertising is likely to be intrusive and says it

will work best if it is developed alongside content. ’It will have to

offer the user some sort of service. For instance, I can imagine airport

departures being sponsored by British Airways - or even by the duty free

shop.’



So how far away is a WAP service with full interaction and proper

graphics?



Both Wilson and Nall agree that demand and investment will hasten the

medium’s evolution. ’By 2003 we’ll be into the third generation, when

it’s estimated some half a billion people will be accessing the net via

some sort of mobile device,’ says Nall. ’And it will be able to show

movies, TV-style ads - real Star Trek stuff.’



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