Media: Double Standards - Is it time to choose a specialist mobile agency?

Two mobile pioneeers on why it's a good idea to get in at the ground floor of this young medium.

MICK RIGBY - CHAIRMAN, YODEL

- What services does your agency provide?

Yodel is about effective mobile advertising strategy and delivering tight planning and quality buying at the right price to ensure that our client's use of mobile is successful. We have decades of comms planning and real world/digital planning and buying that we are applying to the mobile space. We are independent of any service provider or agency, giving us true flexibility.

- Why is there a need for specialist mobile agencies?

The opportunity is massive but still young, there are loads of communication channels and lots of confusion. To make the best decisions and maximise success you need to be in there every day wading through the research, negotiating deals, analysing results and meeting all the platforms and providers. Digital and media agencies find this difficult as they have other media issues to focus on.

- What single development will provide the biggest boost for mobile advertising over the next couple of years?

There are four or five things that need to happen before mobile goes stratospheric. Technology is key on the handset front, where there are 6.2 million smart phones in the UK but it's only on 13 per cent of the total handsets. There is still confusion on data charges and these need to be better communicated and ideally reduced, and the overall quality of sites and mobile services needs to get better. The most important development sits with mobile phone users: they need to utilise the mobile internet more, understand it, trust it and the brands therein.

- What are the largest campaigns you've run to date?

Most advertisers are starting to test the channel and, as a result, entry investment can be relatively low. Some of our campaigns have been as low as £10,000. But, we have regular ongoing campaigns of £100,000 each month.

- What's your view of networks such as Blyk that are funded by advertising?

I think this model of advertising can work well with a certain type of audience. Blyk offers a free mobile contract to users aged 16-24, in return for being exposed to two to three relevant full-screen mobile ads each day. This model works well in Blyk's case as it is providing a great service to its target market. However, the key to this type of advertising is its "relevance". Other companies do sell "ad-funded" free-content application packages such as mobile games but you have to realise that this type of content appeals to a younger, slightly downmarket and cash-poor demographic.

- Do advertisers fully understand the possibilities of mobile activity?

Yes, in the sense that they know that it's going to be important for them in the near future. But also, no, because many don't know how to make the most of it, either to take advantage of a virgin market or to gain valuable insight to make the most of it in years to come, when it will be ten times the size. It's a time issue: many don't feel there is enough of it for them to spend on what is currently small media. The big opportunity is now.

- What's the most exciting thing about working in mobile?

As a planner, I've never experienced a medium with the creative scope, functionality, accountability and immediacy that mobile offers. We are right at the start of understanding and making this communications opportunity what we want it to be. Setting the rules means it is a really enlightening and compelling sector to be involved in right now.

CHRIS AND KIERAN BOURKE - MD AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR, MOBEXT

- What services does your agency provide?

We are a full-service mobile advertising agency. Mobile isn't embryonic anymore but it hasn't quite matured yet either, so we believe it makes sense to keep all mobile media services under one roof. This integrated approach improves the quality of our creative output and allows us to deliver mobile media solutions to our clients that link tightly with all of the other disciplines in the mix.

- Why is there a need for specialist mobile agencies?

Mobile is a complex medium with many sub-channels. Leveraging each channel requires an understanding of the interface between technology, media and the consumer; understanding how consumers relate to Bluetooth, mobile video, voice, SMS and the mobile internet is critical to campaign success. Unless you breathe mobile 24/7, you'll make assumptions that will short-change the client.

- What single development will provide the biggest boost for mobile advertising over the next couple of years?

If asked this question last year, we would have said mobile internet tariffs that allow consumers unlimited access for a fixed monthly fee. But nearly all of the operators are now offering flat-rate bundles so that hurdle no longer exists. These packages are driving high usage of the mobile internet among 18- to 30-year-olds. The next big hurdle is content: the industry needs to see more inventory owners migrating their media brands to mobile. When a critical mass of must-see media is published on mobile, the mobile advertising explosion will be inevitable.

- What are the largest campaigns you've run to date?

We're developing a pan-European campaign right now across ten countries. In terms of spend and ambition, it's likely to be the biggest mobile advertising campaign in Europe to date.

- What's your view of networks such as Blyk that are funded by advertising?

Everyone, including ourselves, was sceptical about Blyk's ability to scale its model quickly enough to attract advertisers, but as we move toward engagement models, scale becomes less important than the quality of the consumer-brand conversation. If advertisers embrace this idea, then Blyk will go down in history as a radical pioneer; but if they don't, then the only evidence of its grand experiment will be a warehouse full of blank SIM cards. We suspect in time it'll be proven right, but will Blyk have the patience to wait while advertisers slowly shift focus from mass broadcast to digital engagement?

- Do advertisers fully understand the possibilities of mobile activity?

No, but it would be wrong to expect them to. With so many sub-channels it is our job, as mobile advertising specialists, to help advertisers understand how mobile can support their marketing objectives. But there are some fantastic evangelists on the client side - the mobile media heroes - who because of their passion for the medium are fluent in mobile and relentless in their promotion of it within their own organisation.

- What's the most exciting thing about working in mobile?

(Chris:) I looked after the digital strategy for a large corporation between 1997 and 2000 and back then it felt like I was pushing the envelope every day. (Both:) With mobile, the pace is much faster. In fact, it sometimes feels like you are pushing the envelope every minute! The creative possibilities are unique, as mobile offers brands, for the first time, the ability to interact with consumers digitally on the move. Where this model will take us, we don't quite know, but we suspect the ride will be a blast.