Monday, June 18, 2007

Mobile advertising - all hype?

I ran a session for the Institute of Direct Marketing last week and shortly after the session I got an email from one of my students who'd picked up on this article from Simon Mansell of TBG London. Said student thought it was quite amusing and a juxtaposition of what I'd been talking about for two hours that morning.

The article's not particularly well written so, to give Simon the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was a rush job, or it was heavily edited to fit the page or maybe Simon isn't exposed to the world of mobile [yet]. Or any combination thereof. But the facts just aren't straight.

The gist of the article is that mobile advertising has failed to deliver, the example being that the Google search interface is incompatible with mobile. And to some extent I agree - at least with the mobile search issues. I don't think that problem has been fixed yet, but it will be, over time. And actually mobile search is still a very small part of the mobile advertising, let alone mobile marketing, mix.

However, Simon really missed the elephant in the room and that is wap and the related wap advertising. You may think that wap is cr@p and isn't working and is expensive and at times, I'd have to agree with you. But we are seeing flat rate data plans from the network operators, including Pay As You Go customers, and the opening of the walled gardens from the operators with T-Mobile's web 'n walk for example.

But things really are moving with wap and wap advertising. The latest M:Metrics statistics show that 89.5% of UK mobile subscribers have a mobile phone with a web browser and some 44.8% of active users access news/information at least once a week and about a third of all UK subscribers browsed or downloaded from wap in the last month. None of that is to be sniffed at. And if you look globally, active usage is very much higher in India and South Africa, where data charges are almost nil. This is a ripe environment for wap advertising.

Add to that, that big brands are using wap advertising (think Coca Cola, The Times, Adidas), and that the GSMA has launched the first mobile advertising standards in conjunction with the MMA and that Admob has already served almost 3.5 billion wap adverts in its short existence, plus the acquisitions of Screen Tonic and Third Screen by Microsoft and AOL respectively, this is becoming major league.

Wap advertising is just one element of the mobile marketing mix but it's already an increasingly important one. It occurs to me both as observer and participant in mobile marketing and advertising that this wap advertising thing is really really happening and those who choose to ignore it do so at their peril.