Close-Up: Live issue - Mobile specialists gear up to take on digital

Isobar's purchase of Marvellous Mobile shows how seriously digital networks regard the medium.

The collective shrug with which 3G mobile internet has been greeted by consumers in the UK doesn't appear to put off Isobar.

Last week, the Aegis digital network forked out a rumoured £10 million for Marvellous Mobile, one of a handful of mobile marketing specialists operating in the UK.

Nigel Morris, Isobar's chief executive, argues that the deal adds an essential weapon to its digital arsenal. "Having deep, technical, specialised skills in all the disciplines is critical," he says.

Omnicom attempted a similar trick with the European launch of the US-based mobile marketing specialist Ipsh, as part of its Zulu network in August 2006. The launch didn't go to plan, and Ipsh has been rolled into Agency Republic, the network's digital creative agency.

"It's extremely difficult to get clients to pay for strategy and creative for mobile," a senior Omnicom source concedes. "Clients expect digital agencies to do that, farming delivery out to a mobile specialist where appropriate."

Marvellous Mobile, which employs 30 staff in its Central London offices, was founded in 2002 by the joint managing directors, Jon Carney and Paul Seaton. So, what is Isobar getting for its investment? The network has placed a high price tag on a relatively small outfit.

In part, Isobar is paying for Marvellous Mobile's "black box", its bespoke technology for creating campaigns that will run across mobile networks which all have differing technological needs.

It's in this area that Carney believes that mobile specialists will become increasingly important in mobile marketing, predicting that, in five years' time, the mobile handset will be the home of the majority of brand communications.

He feels specialist knowledge married to an ability to craft a campaign with creative tailored to the needs of the mobile medium means specialists, not digital agencies, will be best-placed to reap the rewards of growth in mobile marketing.

And if Coca-Cola's latest campaign for Sprite is anything to go by, he and Morris could be right.

The soft drinks giant has embarked on an ambitious international interactive community and content platform for mobile phones, called Sprite Yard.

The project, which rolls out across the US this week, was an Isobar creation. Marvellous Mobile was the lead creative agency.

"When it comes to reaching teens, mobile is the medium. We can provide them 'instant gratification' through ever-changing content and the ability to immediately receive new information and entertainment," the Sprite global brand director, Denis Sison, says.

So, was Omnicom a little previous in merging Ipsh into Agency Republic? Martin Brooks, the outgoing Zulu chief executive, says that mobile marketing is "absolutely, definitely going to work", but, for that to happen, clients need to be prepared to take the risk, consumers need to be more accepting of the medium and agencies need to come up with compelling ideas.

"Mobile marketing is where the internet was in '95," Brooks says. "Everyone can see the potential, but very few are doing it properly."