SPOTLIGHT ON: WAP - Just how big a deal will WAP be for the advertising industry? Opinion is split on how the new WAP technology will pan out

For many in the business, advertising on WAP technology is an imaginative leap too far. Actually, that’s not the half of it - there are more than a few people around for whom the whole idea of WAP, or mobile internet access of any sort, is a bit too much.

For many in the business, advertising on WAP technology is an

imaginative leap too far. Actually, that’s not the half of it - there

are more than a few people around for whom the whole idea of WAP, or

mobile internet access of any sort, is a bit too much.



Those in the Alan Sugar (a notorious WAP sceptic) camp believe that the

whole business reeks of science fiction, the sort of silly ’wristwatch

television’ pipedreams to be filed alongside Star Trek fantasies.



OK, so the gizmos themselves might appeal. But advertising? Nah ...

It’ll never catch on.



It has, apparently. Last week saw the announcement of marketing

initiatives on two mobile digital technologies. Vnunet.com is to run a

text-based ad campaign - on the content provided by GuardianUnlimited -

for personal digital assistants.



The campaign was created by media21, the new-media marketing agency.



The second initiative saw the online advertising network 24/7 Media

launch the world’s first wireless ad server - sites in its network

include Sportal, dressmart and MatchON.com.



There has already been a number of WAP campaigns - most notably in

Scandinavia, which has embraced this technology faster than anyone else

- but the evolution of a server is a significant step forward.



Just how serious a medium are the mobile technologies?



Surely there are severe restrictions on what’s possible. WAP offers

sketchy versions of websites and even sketchier opportunities for

advertisers. A handful of pixels in dodgy monochrome liquid crystal do

not a canvas make.



Where text is concerned, we’re often talking about sponsorship messages

that you see each time you call up a messaging or data service that

you’ve subscribed to. Some advertisers, though, might be tempted to buy

lists of mobile subscribers and bombard users indiscriminately. The WAP

version, in other words, of spamming.



This is the biggest potential danger, warns Bernard Man, the head of

mobile at Razorfish, the digital solutions company. ’For many people,

unwelcome advertising messages are deemed worse than spam - in some

countries unsolicited text messaging can result in a large fine.

Research shows that in some circumstances people would turn their phone

off. Advertising under those circumstances would seem pretty pointless,’

he says.



Many believe that it’s also pretty pointless speculating about

advertising models in a market where technology is advancing in leaps

and bounds.



A new generation of wider bandwidth devices will soon be with us.



Caroline Walton, a director of ZnSpace, which handled one of the first

WAP campaigns, for Avis, argues that in the future the real attraction

of mobile technologies will be to target people by location.



She says: ’This whole thing will be service-led. It will be about

partnerships. For instance, people reading travel-related news could

receive an ad from an airline. But it might be more interesting if an

airline provided the travel news.’



Pete Robins, a founding partner of media21, which ran the first WAP

campaign in the UK for 365, tends to agree. He says: ’Long term, we’ll

get it right, but there will be conflict between the notion of

advertising being beneficial and it being regarded as an interruption.

WAP is just a delivery mechanism for content and services - advertising

must find a way to integrate with the useful services.’



Mark Nall, the UK sales director of 24/7, thinks we’re starting to move

faster than we realise. He says: ’Yes, there is an element of this being

a bit of a test-bed but we can offer quality content into which we can

serve ads. We’re keen to develop new models side by side with

advertisers and media owners. I know there are reservations and I think

it’s important that we understand how these things will be used. They

will be about localised information such as city and restaurant

guides.



Robins also expects to see a growing level of certainty within the

medium.



He says: ’You would expect a big medium to become a big advertising

medium, wouldn’t you? We’ll see a lot of creative thinking on the ad

side too.



’In a few years’ time we’ll see a lot of people owning a pocket

broadband media device. I think people are realising that they have to

build their experience in this market now, especially those who’ve

learned their lessons on the web. I think we’ll move rapidly to a

situation where it’s accepted as a part of the mix.’



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