Mobile Marketing: The new canvas

The ubiquity of mobile phones makes them an appealing medium for advertisers, but there are unwritten rules governing sending marketing messages to handsets, Pippa Considine reports.

The mobile phone is the first device since the wristwatch we carry with us everywhere. With some two billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide and numbers climbing, its potential for use as an advertising vehicle is extraordinary.

"Mobiles fit right at the heart of everything," Jon Williams, the creative director at Wunderman Interactive, says. "It's probably the most important relationship you have with any screen-based item."

This underlines rule number one for anyone looking to use the phone as an advertising tool. "You need a hell of a lot of permission to be on there," he continues. "Diving in with advertising before developing a relationship with the consumer would be foolish."

There are also significant practical and technical reasons for not diving in, as Steve Griffiths, the managing partner of the mobile marketing specialist Iconmobile, explains: "There are a huge number of device combinations. It's not just a case of replicating the web experience. This is different."

The current take-up of 3G handsets is still limited, so most advertisers look to get messages across on a range of handsets. But there are numerous pitfalls, including differences in reading colour: where one phone sees red, another one might register green.

Very little mobile phone marketing in the UK comprises ads as we know them. One exception is a recent ad for the iPod; another is a trailer for the film It's All Gone Pete Tong, which directed users to a microsite.

Pamir Gelenbe, the Flytxt managing partner, notes that one key difference between mobile and other marketing is the importance of "timeliness".

Of course, communication via mobile means you can time precisely. "Every mobile content provider knows not to sell at a time of the week when people have no credit," Gelenbe says. "The best time is Friday night, when people reload their phones before going out."

Mobile ad activity has so far largely been generated by mobile service and content providers. One drawback for traditional clients and agencies is that coverage is narrowcast. It is tempting, but wrong, to view mobiles as another platform to distribute a TV ad.

The producer Danny Fleet heads the online and mobile arm Contentment Worldwide at the production company Hotspur and Argyle. He has been making a programme for O2 called Soccer Addicts - three-and-a-half minutes of action each week for mobile users. He has some distinct ground rules for shooting for the very small screen: simple backgrounds and close-ups, with little camera movement and a ban on moody lighting, suits the low-definition environment. You can get away with DV and Super 8, but sound must be crystal-clear to be heard through handsets' small speakers.

"Recent studies have shown people will spend longer watching mobile TV if they interact with it," Fleet says. "People interact with Soccer Addicts by uploading clips that they have filmed on their own mobile."

The International Mobile Marketing Association has a list of best practices for banner messages that are designed to "protect user privacy and maintain publisher integrity" (

Outside the UK, there have been several initiatives by advertisers to use mobile phones for more sophisticated ads. An O2 trial in Germany by Iconmobile saw six advertisers, including Amazon, Packard Bell, BMW, Philips and Mini, create banner ads, which were delivered to a WAP portal page and microsites. Free product or branded content made it worthwhile for consumers to follow up.

Ogilvy & Mather India recently produced a successful campaign for the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare, using a video clip of a mother placing her baby in a bin, which was sent to mobiles.

In Japan, the world's most developed mobile market, there are tariff reductions on phones in return for receiving ads. Such ads are billed as useful information, with perhaps five or six a day, including weather forecasts or train delays, plus money off at McDonald's.

Fallon Tokyo's managing director, Phil Rubel, explains that although ads on phones can be intrusive, "content-driven marketing that has an advertising message is well received, hence the development of a range of microsites suitable for mobile phone viewing".

At OgilvyOne in Japan, Yutaka Limori, the senior partner, interactive, says: "In the future, mobile terminals will make it possible for advertisers to conduct more targeted advertising based on owners' usage history."

As media owners such as Emap and ITV add mobiles to their sales packages and the technology grows more sophisticated, the UK is set to follow.

1. Tempt the consumer with something that they actively want -
incentives are key.
2. Ensure your message will make sense and look good on whatever mobile
handset you want to reach.
3. Make messages clear and easy to understand on the very small screen.
4. Time your messages. This is a medium where you know when you will
reach your target.
5. Interact with your consumer. They want to join in.

1. View mobiles as standalone media. They are best used as part of a
customer relationship marketing campaign.
2. Lose the consumer's attention. You need to grab it and keep it.
3. Stick a TV ad on the mobile screen.
4. Use the technology before it can offer top-quality imagery if you are
a high-end brand.
5. Use mobiles if you are trying to reach an older, less mobile-friendly