Advertising on Mobile Phones: Get Permission First

Mobile Marketing

This is an article written a while back that still has resonance despite acquisitions and mergers. Alltel is gone a a separate entity but the rules of permission still applies

By Tom Dougherty

The mobile phone industry is at a key point in its history. The relatively recent integration of video and music and data and social networking into cell phones has been an exciting development – and they point to even greater opportunity for both carriers and consumers. What about Ads on Mobile devices? Do the ads create connection or ruin brand permissions?

Mobile Advertising. Targeted Advertising?

Mobil advertising can be very intrusive
Ads on our mobile devices seem more personal

One of the opportunities being discussed is the potential for targeted advertising that directly addresses the customer’s needs. Marketers have been salivating for this in an era when DVRs and Internet streaming video have taken up a huge chunk of today’s programming and often leaving advertising in the dust.

A recent report in Telephony listed the upcoming technologies that may help advertisers use mobile devices to reach audiences marketers are otherwise losing. But there’s a problem: Users will most likely reject it because no provider has developed a brand that gives it permission from users to infiltrate their phones with ads that will be perceived as intrusive. It will especially seem intrusive as you can feel the shift moving from providers having control to users having control. We are in the iPod, YouTube generation, which has given control to the consumer.

The Film Industry

For example, the film industry has been making serious changes to its business model as DVDs and the Internet are doing more than just supplementing its theatre business. Viewers now can choose their own system to watch movies because they have control over when they watch it, how much they watch in one sitting and in which environment they view them. The hurdle for going to the movies more and more is that the movie theaters decide when you can watch it, that you can only watch it in one sitting and in which environment you see them. Consumers are taking greater control of that experience, which is why the movie business is evolving rapidly.

The wireless phone industry needs to think of its customers in the same way, as giving them the control to select advertising beyond the ability to check email, watch videos, take pictures and listen to music. While the industry figures out marketing technologies such as taking pictures of local ads from a phone’s camera to gain more information to inserting ad breaks into videos or when dialing a number, the first step is building a brand that gives you permission from the user to do all those things. Does this feel different for mobile advertising?

Mobil advertising targeting has great promise
Targeting is not the whole game

A Brand with Meaning Might have Permission to Run Mobile Advertising

A brand with meaning for consumers – especially one focused on control – gives the wireless provider permission because customers search you out and become loyal to that brand. They see themselves in it. Why do we buy the laundry detergent we do? Most of us have not tested the products and discovered which one is best.

Instead, most of us prefer a brand because there is something in that brand that says something about us when we use it, even if it’s something we are not aware of. In thinking of mobile phone users, marketers need to uncover whom the customer wants to be when they use that brand: They are in control, even when being subjected to ads. The carrier with a “brand face” that enables the target audience to see a reflection of their own face – faces they identify with, wish to be and, in fact, feel incomplete without becoming – will win. Let’s take a look at what some of the brands are doing and whether they are promoting an effective brand face that says something about the user when they use that brand – and rate how close they are to getting permission from the consumer:

1. AT&T Wireless had been heavily running a series of TV spots that feature calls being dropped, leaving one member of the conversation exceedingly embarrassed. These ads are certainly funny, but they are marketing as entertainment with very little meaning. They don’t say anything about who the user is when they use that brand other than they have “fewer dropped calls” and won’t be embarrassed. Talk about a defensive strategy. This brand does not allow Cingular permission to sell advertising on its network.

2. Verizon: A carrier with a good reputation for quality service has built its brand on just that by running a campaign focused on Verizon customers having mass support. The ads often feature a Verizon customer who has a crowd of people following him or her around, with the tagline, “It’s the network.”

Like AT&T, however, this is featuring a service and a table stake, what you need to have to even play in the game. Without good support, can you even be a quality wireless carrier? It’s like promoting that you provide phone service. The chances of gaining permission to advertise by Verizon customers are small, although slightly greater than those with Cingular.

Mobile advertising is fast becoming the norm
AT&T and Verizon Dominate Mobil

But being “cool” may not be enough. Having the control over advertising and being cool may be linked, but as it stands now they could be diametrically opposed. Alltel needs to peel back the layer and uncover how does controlling ad content become a component of being cool. Does part of being “cool,” mean you’re in control? Those are the questions brands like Alltel need to ask themselves, especially as they head into a new world where more content, greater technology and targeted marketing enters our mobile worlds from a variety of platforms. (We haven’t even touched on the iPhone and its partnership with AT&T.) Otherwise, customers are going to reject advertising on their devices because right now they are firmly in control of them. The carrier that develops a brand that gains permission from its customers to advertise will take most advantage of this opportunity.

 

(Read a market study on the telephony industry here)

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