Sure, you heard the same venture-capital-driven rallying cry about 2006 and 2007, but Clear Channel Outdoor is betting that 2008 really is the year. It's updated 1,000 of its venues to take advantage of what Michael Hudes, global director of digital media, calls "Outdoor 2.0," a vision of the cellphone as a remote control for consumer interaction.
Outdoor campaigns using text messages and Bluetooth technology have been popular and widely deployed by companies such as Clear Channel, JCDecaux and Kinetic in the U.K. and Asia but have taken longer than expected to catch on stateside. That's probably due to slower uptake of cellphone technologies over here but also, some experts believe, because consumers are concerned that once they make themselves "deliverable" in a Bluetooth or wireless ad network, their phones might start receiving mobile "spam."
Clear Channel has plans to tackle the spam issue. It's partnered with mobile-content company Qwikker to ensure interactivity remains in the consumer's hands by including a call-to-action element in each campaign. At Cemusa bus shelters in New York City this year, for example, consumers had to choose to download video clips from Discovery shows such as "Planet Earth" and "Last Man Standing." For Pepsi, ads in airports asked consumers to subscribe to downloads from this year's Pepsi Smash concert series.
'Last thing you want'
Once a phone is in a network, it will be made "discoverable" by vibrating or ringing, giving the user the option to respond. If there is no response after several times, the phone will stop sending alerts. "The last thing you want for four weeks is your phone jingling in your pocket every time you enter into the proximity of a network," Mr. Hudes said.
Saul Kato, founder and chief technical officer of Qwikker, said the company tracks about 800,000 mobile-phone interactions per day, a number he expects to double by the end of the first quarter as the technology is adopted more widely.
There's no doubt marketers have been angling to get into the space for a long time. Michael Collins, CEO of Kinetic Worldwide's mobile division, said he receives multiple requests each day from clients who want to get into more Bluetooth and text-based campaigns. What will take mobile marketing to the next level will be a widespread view of the mobile phone as more than just a phone, he said, pointing to "American Idol" text-message voting and the iPhone as prime examples.
"It's not even a consumer issue [anymore]," he said. "It more pertains to the mobile ecosystem, getting the carriers to figure out what their roles are going to be and how to play them."
Expanding the client base beyond the traditional entertainment marketers and wireless carriers also will help increase spending in the space. EMarketer predicts it will be a $16 billion industry by 2011.
Mr. Collins cited a recent mobile campaign with an "old-school brand" in which the client used ads essentially to ask consumers to buy its product over the phone. Even though the client paid $100 per phone call, he said, all it needed was a .01% response to justify the entire media spend for the campaign, which "is right now doing better than that," Mr. Collins said.
With Bluetooth adoption pegged at more than 65% for 2008 and Google's much-anticipated Android service rolling out soon, projections are already high for the first phase of Clear Channel's Outdoor 2.0., with 300 venues expected to be up and running by this time next year.
"It's no longer a question of when. The channel has arrived," Mr. Collins said. "Now it's up to the marketers to come up with creative campaigns and be able to execute them."