Mobile Marketing Uncovered: Upwardly mobile

Mobile advertising and marketing offer the chance to target consumers in a very personal and direct way. But just how close can advertisers hope to get? Deborah Bonello investigates.

You're on your way to a friend's house for dinner and you need a bottle of wine, so you use your mobile phone to search for an off-licence nearby. You click on a link that sends a map to your phone, along with a money-off voucher and a wine review from your favourite newspaper.

On your way out of the shop, you see a poster ad for a movie you want to see. You use your phone camera to snap a picture of the poster, hit "send" and immediately receive a message informing you where the film is showing locally, plus a map, showing times, a short video trailer and a voucher offering you two tickets for the price of one.

Or perhaps you're a football fan watching the latest episode of Lost on your mobile phone and, during a one-minute ad break, Rio Ferdinand shows you some defending tips, brought to you by Nike.

Those are just some of the possibilities that mobile applications will offer brands and media owners. Some of them are already reality. Mobile marketing is into the second phase and is no longer just about SMS. Within the next couple of years, most people will be able - and, more importantly, willing - to surf the web and receive all sorts of rich media and audio content on their phones.

The potential of mobile is only just becoming apparent. Contrast the decline in impacts currently afflicting traditional media with the ubiquity of hand-held phones and devices and the intimate relationship consumers have with them, and it becomes clear that mobile is offering a new way in.

Nick Wiggin, the head of the Mobile Marketing Association, says: "The mobile phone will be the red-button technology of the future - it will enable interaction with broadcast media, be that radio, posters or TV. Mobile is the media glue that links different communications solutions together."

But, predictably, as with many new ways to market, some agencies - both media and creative - have been slow to exploit the medium's possibilities.

"The bigger agencies are definitely ignoring the potential of mobile. Traditionally, these agencies are always slow to pick up on new technology, and when they do it takes them a while to skill up - and there aren't the fees to interest them as yet," Richard Davies, the founder of the independent agency Vexed Digital, says.

And the mobile operators themselves have been slow to give advertisers access to subscribers, fearing that targeting them with commercial messages would result in customer churn.

They are now, however, proving themselves more amenable to the idea of brands creating content and applications that add something to the customer experience. The result is that while some agencies stroke their chins and watch, specialists such as En-pocket, Flytxt, Filter, Ipsh and Vexed are creating new ways to reach people in a uniquely personal environment.

"I think we are on the starting blocks of a true paradigm shift in the world of communication," Dave Allen, the chief executive of Team Vodafone at JWT, argues. "The mobile is a device that consumers won't leave home without and it is capable of receiving location-based communication that is specific to the user. It is going to be a powerful marketing tool. It is also easy to keep track of all user data: clients and media planning people are going to love it because it will be easy to link cause, effect and cost."

South-East Asia is currently leading the field in mobile marketing. Adidas, for example, carried out a massive mobile push in China around its sponsorship of the World Cup. Sponsored content on mobile portals included free news alerts about World Cup games, ringtones, wallpaper and competitions. Adidas also provided MTV-produced videos of David Beckham, the Spanish star Raul and other famous football players, localised for the Chinese market, for download via the mobile site.

The use of something called 2d codes is also very popular in South-East Asia. These are like barcodes on posters that consumers photograph with their mobile phones to request free content or to buy music tracks or video clips. Phones automatically read the codes off billboards or print ads without the user having to enter data into the phone by hand.

Here in the UK, the potential of mobile is also growing. There is, however, an important distinction to make between mobile marketing and mobile advertising and their respective advertising models.

The content opportunity
Mobile marketing - as opposed to advertising - effectively means brand extensions on the mobile platform, usually in the form of content. All the UK mobile phone operators are piloting mobile content portals, for example, T-Mobile's T-Zones, Vodafone Live! and Orange World, which has 2.1 million users a month.

If you're already a media owner, the potential here is obvious. MTV, for example, has already created the hugely successful Head and Body series, which was made just for mobile.

Edward Humphrey, the head of interactive at Flextech, which has just launched mobile TV channels for Bravo and Living, says the mobile platform offers more opportunities for advertising-funded content and branded content than television, because the restrictions that apply to TV don't apply to mobile.

"You could bring the product and the brand closer to the screen," Humphrey suggests, "or you could show it on a programme in a way you couldn't in the TV world."

One of the main problems with mobile content is the cost - users have to pay for it. But if advertisers sponsor content, they can pick up the tab. The mobile operator 3 is already exploring this potential. During the World Cup, the network created its own bespoke mobile television channel that was free to air because it was sponsored by Canon and Electronic Arts. The channel had more than 3.6 million viewings during the World Cup season.

Brands could also use mobile to harness the growing popularity of online communities such as MySpace, Bebo and YouTube. Jon Williams, the interactive creative director at Wunderman Interactive, says he and his team are considering using mobile to extend the GoBeyond campaign the agency is already running for Land Rover.

GoBeyond aims to create an online community linked to the Land Rover brand. The campaign encourages "adventurers" from all over the world to upload details of their activities on to the GoBeyond site, where other adventure junkies can see what they're up to. "As a development phase, we will enable people to browse that site via mobile phone and to upload images and stories to the site via mobile phone," Williams explains.

The advertising opportunity
Mobile advertising consists of either ads served around mobile and mobile TV content, or directly to phones as text or picture messages.

Advertising served around content could appear as banner ads on mobile portals - very similar to those we already see online. Orange has just launched its new portal advertising service and other operators have already tested the model. Alternatively, it could also consist of ads within content - product placement within games, sponsorship, or TV ads repurposed for mobile TV.

Much has been made of the promise of mobile TV for advertisers, although as yet the first thought tends to be of broadcasting TV ads to handsets.

"Mobile TV will probably follow traditional TV models," Davies says. "It will be a combination of subscriptions and ad funding. It's worth noting that ad funding alone is failing TV channels today, hence the move to direct interactions with audiences through things such as Big Brother charging for votes, TV channels selling mobile content off the back of broadcasts and so on. But (calling it) mobile TV is a bit of a red herring - content in that (traditional) format doesn't really work on mobile devices."

Steve Ricketts, the third-party relationship manager of mobile advertising and marketing at Orange, agrees that traditional TV ad content won't work. "If you're watching mobile TV, chances are you're not going to want to watch a 30-second ad - you're going to watch something shorter," he says.

The medium gets really interesting when you start considering its potential for personalisation. This will mean mobile advertising served directly to people's phones, based on who they are, where they are and what they're doing. So far, this sort of targeting has taken place via multimedia messages, MMS, which contain rich media such as video, audio and colour pictures.

But other mechanisms do exist. Bluecasting, for example, involves poster or press ads that ask consumers to enable their Bluetooth connection in order to allow a download to their phone. The recent poster ad campaign for the launch of the Coldplay album X&Y, from a company called Filter, invited users to switch on their Bluetooth function to download samples from the album.

"Another thing we're investigating is a property from some guys in the States called Sticky Shadows," Williams says. These are files - images, words and pictures - that float in the air. If your mobile phone is registered, they will appear on your phone as you walk through them.

The creative opportunity
But although this is very exciting, there is a cloud around the silver lining: the "piss-off factor", as many experts like to refer to it. People tend to have a personal relationship with their mobile phones and, unlike e-mail or snail mail, they open and read all of their messages. Accordingly, they are much less tolerant of spam via mobile than via any other medium.

But the ability to target on mobile means advertisers can make their messages relevant to individual consumers. And the lack of regulation also means agencies have more freedom to produce creative, entertaining work. In theory, at least, relevant and entertaining messages ought to be less annoying than dull, irrelevant ones.

"Mobile offers the ability to target an ad to the consumer by personal information such as age, sex, interests and location at any given time, plus the ability to bill for products and services. It's a huge step forward and no other ad medium has the ability to target to such a high level," Dusan Hamlin, the managing director at mobile marketing agency Inside, says.

Where does this leave agencies? The costs of mobile are much lower than for above-the-line media such as print or TV but a set pricing structure has yet to be developed. Media agencies can't buy it as easily as other media, and creative skills are in short supply. "Sometimes the money goes where it's easier to spend," Humphrey says.

There's also the creative challenge to consider. "The small screen is an issue," Allen says. "Content made for TV and cinema works far less well (on mobile) and dark and moody is a complete no-no. Camera angles have to be much tighter and you have to go much closer in on people."

Repurposed content just doesn't work. But that in itself is not such a huge obstacle. Agencies don't need to change the idea, just think carefully about the execution. Avoid crowd screens, or long shots, because whatever people see will be three millimetres tall. Don't do any fast panning shots, and bear in mind that your audience isn't sitting on the couch watching - they'll probably be on the move.

Next week: User-Generated Content Uncovered.


- Start looking now for creatives with mobile campaigns on their books

- The opportunity to do something new rather than merely repurposing web and TV content

- Don't be intimidated by shooting video for mobile distribution - the technology is simpler than it seems

- If you're not doing it already, start putting mobile on your schedules and allocating it a share of the budget

- Think about working with operators to develop a pricing structure

- Remember that mobile is not a broadcast media - it's all about targeting


- A new platform on which to extend your brand

- Less regulation of content and advertising

- The chance to create content delivered directly to a device that most people would not leave home without

- Brands can become broadcasters in their own right.