Christina Armstrong, head of mobile, Upfront
Christina Armstrong, head of mobile, Upfront
A view from Christina Armstrong

Think BR: Brands realise it's good to talk to people through mobiles

Some brands are struggling to comprehend the real opportunity offered by mobile, writes Christina Armstrong, head of mobile, Upfront.

Have you ever left your mobile at home or lost it on a bus or in a taxi? It’s a sickening feeling - akin to locking your keys in the house or realising you’re wearing odd shoes at work. 

The virtual thump in the solar plexus that comes from being parted from our mobiles is so acute because we are now utterly dependent on them.

In the last decade, mobile devices have gone from a status gadget for the few to a must-have basic for pretty much everyone. A staggering six billion people now have a mobile phone - nearly 87% of the world’s population. 

Owning a mobile is so normalised, that I fear some brands have been left slack jawed at the pace of change and are struggling to comprehend the real opportunity the platform presents.

If 87% of people on the planet had an advertising hoarding in the back garden, would brands ever allow that space to remain empty or partially populated? Of course not - they would be littered with the most engaging and creative content - print, digital and interactive. 

Brands would be ambitiously competing in a public display of one-upmanship to the benefit of consumers.

However, brands seem to be playing a ‘who blinks first game’ - not daring to seem reckless, under-educated or over confident in an area they don’t fully get.

The old truism that content is King is, in my view, what’s really stopping brands from properly embracing mobile as a marketing platform. A lack of understanding and fear of the new is getting in the way of brands really looking at and shaping how they occupy this prime piece of real estate.

It’s more than 15 years since we were first faced with mobile phones hosting content - initially in the form of paid for ringtones.

Ringtones were, and remain, popular. They could also be irritating, intrusive and unpleasant and possibly it’s the fear of being thought crass that’s also stopping so many brands from embracing mobile content as much as they should.

Take vouchers and money off offers - these promotions work really well in the real world and online. It follows that if this is part of your overall strategy, why haven’t you integrated that into a mobile service? 

Location based mobile content is also on the rise because of its immediate connection to consumers and the clear benefits to users, but it is by no means being used by every brand that could and currently remains niche within mobile marketing. Some of the big brands are already doing it well however; Nike’s True City app is a superbly integrated initiative allowing users to create an innovative citizen's city guide. 

Where it is more complicated is in the area of marketing content that seems purely recreational. I think the problem here is that brands are treating mobile users as an alien market - but they need to remember it’s just us - the same people who watch television, read newspapers and listen to the radio. 

There are, of course, honourable exceptions; Starbucks has been exploiting mobile for some time with a range of services from SMS to mobile bar codes and mobile payments to augmented reality. Coca-Cola this year announced mobile was to be at the heart of its strategy - evidenced by its Move to the Beat Campaign.

Mobile marketing still has a disproportionately low spend and it may well be that some brands think less money means less ambition. The real challenge for brands is to bring the same creativity and ingenuity to their mobile marketing as they do to the rest of their channels. 

To do that they need experts in-house or specialist agencies. They simply cannot afford to be left behind, when the pace of change is so rapid.

The notion that advertising and marketing is inherently invasive and irritating is nonsensical - as is the idea that there are only certain places where advertising is acceptable. 

The truth is, whatever the platform, if the content provokes, informs, engages or amuses, then it is enormously welcome by consumers at home or on the move.

Christina Armstrong, head of mobile, Upfront