Betting on the Future of Mobile Marketing in the U.S.

Ansible's Larry Harris Says Search Will Be Bigger Than on Web

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- "Search will be as powerful on mobile as it has shown to be on the web."
Larry Harris
Larry Harris

Predictions like the one above, by Larry Harris, are fueling the investment by ad agencies in mobile expertise. The most recent example: Interpublic Group of Cos. has formed a dedicated mobile-marketing shop, Ansible, a joint venture with Velti, a mobile-technology company. Mr. Harris, formerly exec VP-director of integrated marketing, DraftFCB, will lead the New York-based company, which sits in Interpublic's Futures Marketing Group.

Mr. Harris spoke with Advertising Age about the shop's role in the emerging mobile world.

Ad Age: Should an agency holding company hold the brain trust for mobile marketing, or should every agency within the holding company have its own mobile component?

Mr. Harris: Many agencies do, in fact, already have mobile capabilities within IPG and we'll actually just be amplifying their abilities. Velti has fantastic technology chops, so we can help some of the people already doing stuff, R/GA, MRM and other agencies within IPG, expand their offering in the mobile channel. We'll also be a specialist agency. Our footprint will allow clients to test and learn in a variety of markets and using a bigger variety of mobile tactics.

Ad Age: Why did you include a technology company in your offering?

Mr. Harris: Without the technology, you don't have a credible offer. If you can't do the technology, you can't provide the service.

Ad Age: Is mobile beyond testing?

Mr. Harris: Personally, I've never seen anybody watch TV on a mobile phone in North America. But I've seen lots of people do that in Asia. So I don't think we're beyond testing in North America and Europe. ... Mobile is really just starting to come into its own. I believe we're just at the stage where we're beginning to really talk about the potential marketing platform it will be five years from now, three years from now. It's a great time to be getting into the space, learning about the space and to do testing and learning both for brands as well as for platforms. There's a lot of scope for creativity and results.

Ad Age: What's going to work in the U.S. in mobile?

Mr. Harris: Video, eventually. SMS [short message systems] will continue to work and expand and it will become part of how we allow customers to expand their knowledge about a product or service. Local search will be huge. Search will be as powerful on mobile as it has shown to be on the web.

Ad Age: More successful than search on the web?

Mr. Harris: Maybe even more. Once you get GPS [global-positioning systems] going, once location-based services take off, you can do fantastic things. A lot of the apps and widgets will drive mobile in years to come haven't even been dreamed up yet.

Ad Age: Your advice to marketers?

Mr. Harris: Start with the objectives. Know your audience. Understand their behavior with regard to how they use the mobile phone, how they can relate to your product. Think very hard contextually. In Europe, a lot of package-goods marketers use on-pack promotions which are working very well. You need to know your customers as to how they use wireless. You need to know how you can capitalize on their behavior. What's the right content and how to shape it. It's test and learn.

Ad Age: For mobile web advertising, should marketers go with on-deck or off-deck ads?

Mr. Harris: On-deck is blessed by the carriers. It's simpler from a performance perspective to optimize your stuff on-deck.

Ad Age: What do you think of Google's auction bid moves with the Federal Communications Commission?

Mr. Harris: Google is super-aggressive. It makes perfect sense they would move into this channel and challenge the carriers.
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