Mobile Marketing: Special Report

The mobile phone is one of the biggest technological breakthroughs of the past 50 years. It has become a prosthetic, an extension of the body and has influenced how we behave.

According to research, men use their mobiles as a display of dominance (the man who positions his mobile on a pub table is signalling he is the main contact with the outside world), and women use them to keep unwanted advances at bay ("go away, I'm with my mobile").

In Peshawar, it is not uncommon for men to carry fake mobiles so they can publicly perform outbursts of rage or romance to imaginary enemies or lovers. Meanwhile, in Japan, where texting is bigger than sushi and baseball, children point and ring doorbells with their thumbs rather than their index fingers. And its influence is not limited to humans - birds are copying ringtones and using them as exotic mating calls.

So it's odd that so ubiquitous a medium has yet to capture adland's imagination.

There are now more mobile phones than people in the UK, and children spend more time texting than they do watching TV. Yet the Mobile Marketing Association says media spend (via planning and buying agencies) on mobile only just nudged £30 million last year. That figure is expected to double this year, but the big money is in text campaigns and paid-for content (such as ringtones and porn downloads).

As Jason Deign discovers on this page, the mobile advertising industry is barely out of nappies. A paucity of media research, awkwardly structured operators (page 41) and the privacy issue has meant advertising has been slow to catch on.

That it will, eventually, is inevitable.

The big question is how advertisers can sneak into people's private worlds via a screen the size of a matchbox (page 37).