Yes, Mobile Phones Go to the Bathroom

56% of Mobile Users Admit to Potty Talk, Texting

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As a researcher who focuses on "emerging" consumer behaviors, I've been fascinated and stunned by how much Americans love their cellphones. A new level of TMI is being displayed as people yak yak yak to their friends, scream at their exes, check in with their moms and even goo-goo to their babies from all manner of public places. How many times have you seen the pilot nearly called on a plane to haul off an irate "just-one-more-minute-this-call-is-important" passenger? How many of you have wondered if the plane really would go down if you did make that call?

Potty Talk chart

Insight Express' Digital Consumer Portrait is a quarterly report that has looked into places where people use their mobile phones where they perhaps shouldn't: on planes, in stores (though unthinkable a few years ago, it's an important comparison-shopping behavior and 87% of mobile phone owners report doing it) and even in church (where 9% of those who are bored with the sermon are doing so). No entertainment deserves our undivided attention with 38% of people using mobiles while at sporting events and 22% of people using them during a movie. So just imagine what they do in private.

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Ad Age Insights' latest trend report, "Mobile Marketing: What Marketers Need to Know About Location Based Services," is the first in a quarterly series on Mobile Marketing. Ad Age Insights is also updating our primer, "What You Need to Know About Mobile Marketing 2011," available March 14. Buy both at

I'm a fan of this piece of research and was thrilled when Insight Express senior director of research Joy Liuzzo asked my input about new questions for first-quarter 2011. Aside from my need for information on usage of mobile phones for couponing and early forms of mobile commerce (trend reports to come in Q2 and Q3), I wanted to see if people would admit to behavior I had been overhearing in stalls everywhere.

Yes, we went there: the toilet, because many of you are already there using your phones. Here are the less- than-hygienic details: 56% of mobile phone owners admit to using their phones "while using the bathroom." What are they doing? No. 1: talking to you (70%). No. 2: texting to you (62%). What else do they do? Twenty-seven percent are playing games, while 20% use music to soothe the process. Nineteen percent are social networking (hey, I'm …) and 13% of those who are on smartphones are using location-based services such as Foursquare.(Not really sure what kind of retail impact checking in to a toilet might hold. Are they the mayors of their stalls?) In fact, people are as likely to be updating their status or checking in than they are to be e-reading -- another instance where behaviors of the past are being matched by technology and the new.

For more scintillating (but less scatological) research on what consumers are doing with their phones and what the impact is for marketers, see What You Need to Know About Mobile Marketing 2011 and What Marketers Need to Know About Location Based Services. And a few simple words of advice your mother would approve of: Always wash your hands and never ever touch anyone else's phone again.

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