The Year Ahead for ... Mobile

Scott Seaborn thinks that, in 2011, creative agencies will finally begin to take advantage of the opportunities presented by mobile technology.

Now stop me if you've heard this one before: my main prediction for 2011 is that we, the creative agencies, will finally begin to understand and use mobile to its fullest potential. No, really. I mean it this time. 2011 will be the year of mobile.

Agencies will come up with ideas that change the way people work and play, because this thing we call "mobile" is a complete paradigm shift. Not just for creative agencies, but for everyone. Mobile equips people, wherever they are, whatever they're doing, with incredible computing power through devices with a range of sensors. Our ideas may finally make the most of this.

It took about ten years for agencies and their clients to fully understand TV. The first commercials in the 40s consisted of five seconds of copy in the middle of a 30-second film, and the film usually consisted of a single still. Those early TV ads failed to fulfil the potential of the medium. It wasn't until the 50s that the Mad Men really started to get their heads around it.

The same goes for mobile. For the past ten years, we have been trying to get our heads around it. Borrowing formats from other media and failing to fulfil the potential of the channel. But, lately, there has been some significant development. We can finally claim to understand the creative format - and potential - of the channel.

If the format of TV is governed by film and sound, the format of mobile is also governed by the unique elements of the device. The microphone, speaker, camera, GPS chip, touchscreen, gyroscope etc. So, on TV, we have a canvas and a voice and, on mobile, we also have a canvas and a voice ... and ears and eyes and skin and an ability to know where it is.

Much of the work done in 2010 reflected this. For example, IBM's Wimbledon "Seer" application (built by OgilvyOne London) used augmented reality technology, as well as smartphones' GPS and gyroscope technology, to allow tennis fans to "see through walls". It's just one example of how the creative industries are getting to grips with the new mobile paradigm.

I hope that in 2011, we will see ideas like this that will help deal with clients' business problems. As did JWT's idea for Mr Kipling in 1960 (of which, more in a minute).

So, where is mobile going in 2011?

We are going to see more mobile data traffic than ever before. Significantly higher numbers of people will regularly use their mobiles for playing games, watching films and consuming content. Within three years, more people will access the web via their mobile than via laptops, netbooks or desktop PCs.

Brands will continue the charge into mobile retail. 2010 saw the launch of m-commerce offerings from Ocado, Argos, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, John Lewis, ASOS, Pizza Hut and Warehouse, to name but a few.

The Internet Advertising Bureau's study of 1,000 consumers carried out by Work Research also demonstrated that consumer demand is ahead of brand supply. People want good stuff delivered on their phones, not any old crap. It's all very good getting lots of downloads for your "insight-driven brand experience" - but creative thinking needs to lead to more than that.

In short, mobile is not just about reaching teenagers with "cool" stuff any more. Shopping via mobile now comes naturally to millions of people - of all ages.

"On the move and otherwise dead time" - that phrase is one of the biggest signposts towards our creative thinking shift. This year, ideas in mobile will not just be about making ads or telling stories on the small screen.

Let's get back to Mr Kipling. In the 60s, JWT was tasked with selling more high-quality flour by Rank Hovis McDougall. Rather than creating an ad campaign telling stories around "that tastes great", it invented Mr Kipling and sold the flour in the form of cakes. That's what advertising's always been about - solving clients' business problems (rather than being an industry of specialists who make ads).

Since 2006, clients have been asking for a different kind of work - specific problems need to be addressed - and digital in general has led the way in changing what we do. I think mobile will take the lead here. What I am talking about is business applications of mobile. Mobile's Mr Kipling.

So, in 2011, we'll see the application of mobile ideas to create business advantage, operations efficiency and plug economic leakages for our clients. This includes crowdsourcing, business social customer service and employee/human resource management. Basically, mobile is going to be viewed in a different way by users and creative thinkers alike, leading to different use cases, products and services. And you'll see the spread of mobile advertising to new categories - FMCG or household goods, for example.

Mobile has already fundamentally changed the photography business (more photos are taken on mobiles than on still digital and film cameras combined) and decimated alarm clock and calculator sales. In a few years' time, we'll be looking at mobiles and payment(s) in the same way as we do mobiles and photography. Convenient, fast, simple, any time, anywhere.

Mobile represents an odd paradigm shift where technology is in the lead and creative thinking is trying to catch up with change. This is both disruptive and an incredible opportunity. Mobile has been technology-led for a decade. Mobile people would approach brands and say: "You have got to use GPS because all the phones have it and everyone's got one."

Mobile (just like any other channel) should, and will, be more creative-led. Creatives understand people, or at least take the time to think about them. When you understand people, any new technology is just a plus.

So, going back to my number one prediction for 2011 ... how will advertisers use mobile and what is the role for agency technologists, planners and creatives in driving this? In fact, up until the launch of iAd earlier this year, mobile advertising in the strictest sense required very little creative time. How much thought is needed for a mobile banner campaign?

When it comes to telling stories on the small screen, 2010 saw the continued growth of branded applications on iTunes' App Store and, increasingly, Android Market.

But ideas in mobile should be about much more than this. It is a paradigm shift, after all. It's not just the technology that's evolving, the channel and its thinking will evolve in ways that affect corporate strategies. Always-on computers on the move have been adopted by significant numbers of customers and employees in every country in the world. The technology, coupled with the behavioural shift, will begin to address all sorts of challenges that organisations face - challenges that we haven't even thought of.

Scott Seaborn is the head of mobile technologies at Ogilvy Group UK.