New York hotshop Anomaly is spinning off a mobile-marketing and -commerce agency called Assembly. Publicis & Hal Riney has hired the former chief marketing officer of MobiTV, Dave Whetstone, to head a mobile-marketing practice as "entrepreneur in residence." And the Weather Channel has established what's believed to be the first dedicated mobile-ad-sales position, naming Rebecca Barnett director-mobile advertising.
Although mobile advertising is small -- Ovum estimates expenditures at $45 million last year -- it's on a fast growth trajectory, with outlays expected to soar to $1.3 billion by 2009. "Brands are struggling with the right way to get into mobile," Mr. Whetstone said. "They hear the hype and are having trouble sorting it out and knowing what's real and not."
Shops like Assembly hope to help them sort that out. Mark Kaplan, chief strategy officer, said Anomaly hopes to expand its client base to include other ad agencies as well as marketers who might have conflicts with Anomaly's client base. The half-dozen Assembly employees have done work for ESPN, Dennis Publishing's Maxim, Coca-Cola's Dasani, singer Tim McGraw and PayPal.
Anomaly is getting into the space in other ways as well, such as buying licenses and rights to graphics and ringtones for more than 288 colleges. But Mr. Kaplan said Assembly will focus less on developing mobile products and more on working with content providers and brands independent of Anomaly's traditional advertising projects.
Steve Roberts will be Assembly's CEO; Colin Rand will be chief technology officer. Anomaly is a "large shareholder" of Assembly and will house its group, said Mr. Kaplan, who remains an Anomaly partner.
During a panel discussion at the American Advertising Federation conference last week, Mr. Kaplan said Assembly was developing a location-based ad service. Such a service could, for example, offer a cellphone user a coupon for money off a T-shirt when he or she walked by a Gap store. "It's quite an investment to make it happen," said Mr. Kaplan, but some marketers have expressed interest.
'This nascent landscape'
Karen Francis, CEO of Publicis & Hal Riney, said the mobile-marketing practice will help the shop, which handles the business-to-business part of the Sprint Nextel account, allow marketers to navigate "this nascent landscape." Specifically, Mr. Whetstone, 42, will help assemble "the capabilities, platforms and partnerships that will enable these marketers to maximize" mobile opportunities, Ms. Francis said.
So far, few brands are getting it right. "Mobile marketing is more than mobile advertising," Mr. Whetstone said. It needs to be integrated into the consumer's experience with a brand. "If brands are smart about mobile, they can get people to use their stuff and connect with the brand. The magic is making all the forms work together, from banner ads to click to video."
He cited the success of Southwest Airlines, which has designed a "clean, easy-to-navigate site" for mobile phones that is different from the PC web experience. One feature allows travelers to check in by mobile phone 24 hours before their flights. "They didn't try to cram everything" onto the mobile site, Mr. Whetstone said, instead "examining what consumers want do with the mobile phone."
As for the Weather Channel, it's named Ms. Barnett to see if there's enough promise for more investment in the mobile space. "We want to get ahead of the market, and we want to lead and innovate," Mr. Gump said. "Brands are starting to be interested in mobile marketing," and there is "significant growth in mobile-web inventory." Marketers including American Express are buying Weather Channel mobile ads. But the Weather Channel can't make a huge investment "before we know it's a real business," he said.
The Weather Channel is an anomaly, however. Most media companies are having their traditional sales forces, or at least their digital experts, handle mobile. Todd Anderman, president of Dennis Digital, said he believes mobile works most effectively in conjunction with other media -- and should be sold that way.