Why '08 Isn't Mobile's Year -- Again

Here Are Five Reasons, and Five Fixes That Could Make '09 the One (Really)

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Each year since about 2000 -- and maybe even before -- has been wrongly touted as the year of mobile marketing. And this year won't be it either, despite the we're-not-kidding-this-time rhetoric being spouted by mobile-marketing boosters converging for telecom's big powwow in Las Vegas this week. Here are five reasons why -- and five fixes that could make 2009 the year the channel becomes really, truly, we're-not-joking meaningful.


Of the 219 million U.S. wireless subscribers, just over 30 million are on data plans, according to M:Metrics. That means more than 86.1% still use mobile devices primarily for talk, which isn't optimal for mobile marketing; most mobile-advertising tactics require subscribers to have pricey data plans. The growth of mobile websites accessed via those data plans is also a crucial component for increasing mobile-ad inventory. The mobile web "isn't a great experience, and it's not generating enough demand," said Julie Ask, a Jupiter Research analyst. In a recent Jupiter study, lack of audience topped the list of reasons marketers said they were not using mobile marketing.
THE FIX: It'll take a confluence of events to grow the audience: First, a solution to the cost barrier. Carriers are working with marketers on initiatives offering consumers free, ad-supported services such as video, messaging and web browsing. Dave Whetstone, mobile advisor to Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, predicted we'll see those this year.

All-you-can-eat data plans and the educational iPhone TV spots, which show how a phone can be used for more than talk, also should spur adoption of advanced services. On the publisher side, firms such as Quattro Wireless are helping move PC websites to the mobile web.


Marketers are accustomed to being able to measure and optimize across the PC-based web, but many technologies that make that possible, such as the ability to track customers via cookies, aren't available in mobile.

There's also a paucity of trusted auditors to ensure marketers are getting the ad exposure they buy. "The carriers have to start to find a way to deliver that data," said Larry Harris, president of Ansible. There's also a need to measure beyond the click, said Jason Spero, VP-marketing, AdMob.

He said people are asking: "'What happens after the click? How many registered? How many called?' It's not just unique users or clicks but intent to buy."

THE FIX: Industry trade groups are starting to grapple with measurement issues. The GSM Association, for example, is looking to expand to the U.S. an initiative it organized among European carriers to work together to deliver uniform, cross-operator metrics to media and ad companies so they can more easily plan, target and evaluate campaigns.

Other advances: The Nokia Media Network allows marketers to compare ad performance on a number of content sites; IAG Research has measurement tools capable of comparing mobile with other digital and traditional media forms; and Bango Analytics provides information about who is visiting mobile websites, where they come from and what they do on the sites.


Mobile remains a complicated channel because there are so many different operating systems, devices and carrier standards to worry about. A single campaign needs to meet myriad approvals, and marketers that want to buy mobile ads from multiple networks or vendors need to stitch those buys together by hand, like in the pre-DoubleClick days of the PC web. Those toiling in the field say marketers go into virtual shock when they realize what's involved.

THE FIX: Operators need to create ad standards, and mobile ad sellers need to be willing to come together around ad-serving technologies that work across networks. There are signs the industry is moving toward a more open, cooperative mind-set.

The carriers' "walled garden" versions of the mobile web are crumbling; No. 2 carrier Verizon is opening its network to outside application developers; and Google is launching a similar open platform in Android. Plus, a recent federal spectrum auction mandated at least some open access to third-party players.


Too often people treat mobile as just another medium into which marketers should shoehorn existing ad models. This is being questioned online and should also be questioned in mobile.
Larry Harris, president of Ansible
Larry Harris, president of Ansible

THE FIX: Marketers need to realize mobile is not a medium that works best alone; it's more effective as part of a larger media buy that integrates with TV, online or print. "Mobile marketing should make your other media work harder," said Eric Bader, partner at Brand in Hand. He said the first thing he asks marketers when he goes in to talk about mobile is how other media channels are performing and suggests tying in mobile to help boost performance. Some marketers, such as airlines, with their improved mobile sites, are making it part of customer relationship management.


Mobile marketing will really take off when "everyone sees something is working, and they call an agency and say, 'Make one for me,'" said AdMob's Mr. Spero.

THE FIX: It'll simply take time -- and creating a better environment should help. "We're on the cusp of getting a richer environment for mobile," said Eric Eller, senior VP-product and marketing, Millennial Media. "The user experience is going to get a lot better quickly," he said. One example: Adobe recently announced that its Flash Lite software, designed for mobile devices, soon will be on Microsoft's Internet Explorer Mobile browser.
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