Scandinavia: A mobile obsession

The birthplace of full-scale mobile phone networks, Scandinavia is a natural hothouse for cutting-edge mobile marketing campaigns. Pippa Considine reports.

The cradle of the mobile handset, Scandinavia is now revelling in the play of the industry it has watched grow up.

With Sweden, Norway and Denmark the first countries in the world to have a fully automated mobile phone system, and Nokia, the globe's biggest mobile phone manufacturer, accounting for half the market capitalisation of the Helsinki Stock Exchange, Scandinavia is home to some of the most forward-leaning mobile marketing initiatives.

"Historically, there has been a higher and quicker uptake of mobile phones in Scandinavia," Eddie D'Sa, a partner at Naked Communications' Oslo office, says. "Income per capita is high, so the cost of the phone is pretty irrelevant, and these are vast countries, so switching to mobile makes a lot more sense."

According to Jupiter Research, Sweden has by far the most "mobile aficionados" and the most "convinced consumers" among mobile owners in Europe. But the entire gadget-loving Nordic region is awash with engaged mobile users. Mobile penetration is above 100 per cent across Denmark, Norway and Sweden, with 3G subscribers accounting for around one in five of all users. And mobile content services is a huge $140 million-plus business in both Sweden and Norway.

In addition, research from the mobile marketing company Mobiento shows almost 90 per cent of Scandinavian mobile owners are using SMS and nearly half use MMS. Two-thirds have taken advantage of mobile content services and one-third has downloaded ringtones, pictures, games and the like. The same percentage has already surfed the internet from a mobile.

It's a rich environment for brands looking to engage consumers with novel techniques. So how has mobile technology been put to marketing use in Scandinavia?

The Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz recently ran a high-profile campaign through Initiative Universal, in which H&M club members were sent an SMS inviting them to take part in a fashion quiz on a WAP portal and view the new Madonna collection. H&M has also used SMS to send out discount codes that customers could show when making a purchase in-store.

Indeed, the mobile phone as a payment device is a phenomenon that's on the increase in the region. Mobiles are frequently used to pay for music downloads, ringtones, wallpapers and mobile betting, as well as cinema tickets and soft drinks from vending machines. Its growing use of "micro-payment" also includes buying articles online or placing classified ads.

Although Mobiento's statistics show that only one-quarter of Scandinavian mobile users have voted by SMS, "pan-Nordic campaigns have shown volumes of ten or more times those in other countries", Initiative Universal's chief executive, Urban Hilding, says. Finns are the most eager texters, he notes. Even so, the Swedish entry to the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest attracted five million votes from a population of just nine million.

Only 3 per cent of Scandinavians have watched mobile TV, but the region gives an overwhelming thumbs up for the service. In a survey conducted by the research company MMS earlier this year, 87 per cent thought mobile TV was "good" or "really good", and more than half were prepared to pay for the service. "More and more people use mobiles to surf the web and watch TV," Martin Cedergren, the interactive creative director at the leading Swedish communications agency Forsman & Bodenfors says.

Initiative clients, including Microsoft, have chosen Scandinavia's mobile-centric population as a test-bed for mobile marketing campaigns that may roll out globally.

Forsman & Bodenfors is behind award-winning work for the Swedish telecoms operator Tele2, which featured a series of posters. Mobile users took a picture of the poster and were able to send a gift-card via the phone. Another campaign for the same client featured six celebrities, each talking as much as possible on a given day to demonstrate how much you could chat using its new rate. Mobile users could phone in to talk to them, send messages, listen in or find the web page.

"Mobile marketing such as SMS advertising is quite common in England, but not in Sweden. It's considered to be too pushy," Cedergren says. "To make advertising work on the mobile phone, it must give the consumer something; for example, a good service or a discount coupon."

Several Nordic companies are now including community and feedback in their mobile marketing programmes. The Finnish communications company Small Planet has developed the mobile games service Playerz, with which consumers use a range of different handsets to download games and leave feedback, read reviews, offer recommendations and become part of a community. The service has already been used by the Finnish gaming TV show Tilt and boosted games sales by a reported 60 per cent in the week following its introduction.

In Norway, the mobile phone specialist Plutolife has launched a camera-phone application, Mobimodels, with which participants use either picture messaging MMS or WAP to upload their own photos, rate other people's and attempt to win prizes. It's targeted at 16- to 25-year-olds under the slogan "Hot or Not?", and is already available to 74 per cent of Scandinavian mobile users just eight months after launching.

Nordic credentials are an undoubted plus for new mobile ventures, and the region's heritage is bound to spawn innovative start-ups. Witness Easy Park, a mobile phone parking outfit, and Blyk, a pan-European ad-funded free mobile operator for young people being set up by Pekka Ala-Pietila, the former Nokia president.

Nordic consumers have proved themselves happy to embrace fresh ways of using their mobiles. But if the plethora of novelties become too much, they have one final use for them: Finland's mobile phone-throwing world championship is held each summer in the small town of Savonlinna.