Having a mobile phone might have been one of the ultimate yuppie
status symbols in the business world ten to 15 years ago, but nowadays
they are everywhere. The average 12-year-old school kid is as likely to
own one as an advertising executive.
And as the penetration of mobile technology soars, mobile channels are
increasingly being used as both a marketing tool and route to market by
Of course, we're not just talking about mobile phones. Although much
less widespread, personal digital assistants are also becoming
increasingly popular among the high-end professionals and have replaced
the mighty Filofax as the essential organising accessory. Industry
executives have kissed goodbye to their posh fountain pen and scribbling
pads - it's all gone digital.
But things just aren't what they used to be and mobile devices haven't
always been particularly mobile. Phil Talbot, the director of
international clients at Optimedia, reminisces about the old days. He
says: "I had my first mobile phone in the mid-80s and it weighed so much
that it enabled me to negotiate a new company car as it was too heavy to
carry. It certainly wasn't mobile - the batteries were enormous and are
probably now in the design museum. I could never lose it in the back of
And does anyone remember the car phone? Poster Publicity's managing
partner, Mike Segrue, recalls: "I had my first mobile phone, which was a
car phone, back in 1986. I thought it was great at the time." Fast
forward to the present day, and mobile technology has become infinitely
more interactive, as well as versatile and lighter, and has also become
increasingly synonymous with kudos and cool.
Mobile phone marketing, to date, has mainly consisted of SMS text
messaging, and has been regarded as the best way to reach a primarily
teen audience. But text-messaged purchase offers form only a small part
of mobile marketing strategies. The most successful mobile marketing
strategies will be those that offer something that is of value to the
consumer. Brands can sponsor updates of financial or traffic
information, for example, and media owners can push their content to
users via their mobiles and PDAs - Smash Hits and the film Bridget
Jones's Diary are two of the most recent examples.
Worldpop's marketing director, Dan Avener, says: "The key thing to
remember is that it has to be opt-in, as this means that the customer
has chosen to receive an ad or a message."
So are advertisers using the new mobile channels to target the high-end,
tech-savvy agency people who are such frequent users? Whereas for
teenagers, mobile phones are often a way of life, for their more mature
and professional users they are a tool. Lars Becker, the managing
director of the mobile marketing company Flytxt, is adamant that mobile
channels are not just for reaching teen audiences. He says: "If you look
at TV, the high-earning and spending executives don't watch Home & Away
but they do watch the news, so you'd act accordingly by sponsoring
financial news updates or travel bulletins rather than the pop or soap
content. It's just a medium."
Whereas mobile phones have become ubiquitous, PDAs are used mainly by
high-end professionals and have a low penetration compared with mobile
users. Their user group is much more suited to high-end car and fashion
brands that have nothing to gain from marketing to teenagers. But are
such brands using this channel?
To a certain extent, yes. IBM created a PDA game through Ogilvy
Interactive and Beyond Interactive, the digital advertising agency,
created a PDA marketing campaign for VNU. But where are the BMWs and the
Pradas? Beyond's director of media, Pete Robins, says advertisers are
However, the niche nature of the PDA market seems to be dissuading some
brands from using the platform for advertising. Robins says: "I think
some of the bigger brands might look at PDA and think the numbers are
too small for them to worry about, even though they stand to benefit
from using it."
Becker adds: "It might be useful, for example, for some airlines
targeting in the high-end market. But most marketers have a broader
Although mobile phones are now mass market, any handheld device is
considered a personal space by its user. Intrude on this personal space
with irrelevant messages and annoying ads and an advertiser risks
alienating an already sceptical audience, which is why the industry is
in the process of trying to create an opt-in standard for mobile
marketers. Such factors drastically reduce the risk of irritating
As technology improves, moving images, colour and sound will be added to
the portfolio of tools that marketers can use via mobile. As this
happens, some of the bigger brands will begin to come on board and
invest in mobile as a useful route to market and will start to cash in
on the position of handheld gadgets as the must-have of any business
AND IN THE FUTURE?
The first mobile computer I had was an Osborne and it was the size of a
commercial sewing machine. You had to be convinced that you would need
to use it before deciding to carry it anywhere. Meanwhile, the Filofax
population was huge and the thickness and diversity of its content
proved you were organised and socially acceptable. Today, the Filofax
has waned and PDAs have caught on. A PalmV, the world's most popular PDA
device, offers more raw computing power than my old Osborne in the size
of a small wallet.
I don't believe the briefcase will even exist in ten years' time. I
first thought we would replace it with a digital device such as a laptop
which had broadband access to the internet but I think that's way out of
I'm now convinced we will have a bunch of things strung about our person
that all talk to each other via a wireless network - something probably
derived from Bluetooth.
So, to see and read things, you'll need a headset device, a cross
between a pair of glasses and a retinal scanner, and a pair of "deep"
earpiece gizmos that you'll wear all the time.
These will "communicate" with your "processor sleeve" which will replace
your wristwatch. It will have a small screen and it will run data
processing and communications. It would be sensible to include body
metabolism sensing - shutting down circuits and power consumption when
you're asleep and preventing you from driving your car when you are too
pissed. It could also manage all your security for you - allowing you
though doors and delivering credit without the hassle of carrying keys
and credit cards.
Of course, you will need data - possibly a 50-trigabyte data vault made
from gallium arsenide and foamed silicon that is marginally smaller than
a packet of matches. This will carry all your personal data, which will
be constantly updated by the broadband communication. All the
entertainment that you have subscribed to will be stored here so you can
watch stuff on your retinal scanner glasses or via your home cinema
projector once you're within range. And batteries? You won't need them.
Power will come from heat recycling pads stitched in your underwear.
- Rod Banner is the chairman and chief executive of WPP's technology
marketing agency, Banner Corporation.