Charges Major Carriers With Limiting Cellphone Marketing Potential

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LOS ANGELES ( -- A recipient of a Mobile Marketing Association award last night chided wireless-service providers, saying they are stifling development of the mobile phone as a medium by focusing on the competition rather than the consumer.
The Mobile Marketing Association's award ceremony became a hot debate about who is or is not stifling the cellphone's emergence as a new entertainment medium.

Major carriers
Juice Wireless Chairman Nick Desai said that while Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Sprint to some extent control subscribers’ online experience by making it easier for consumers to get news, sports, or other information from the carrier’s preferred sites, they are limiting the marketing potential of the mobile phone. “Let’s open up the barriers and not stifle creativity,” he urged while accepting an award for best use of mobile marketing.

“We all compete with each other, begging the carrier to get on deck,” said Mr. Desai. “How do you build great applications? I have no idea,” he said. “The people who do are the consumer.” But the industry is too focused on what the device can do or what rivals are doing. Wireless carriers also are trying to duplicate the TV or Internet experience on the phone, he added, instead of trying to find what makes sense for the third screen.

John E. Styers, director-wireless messaging & imaging consumer solutions for Sprint Nextel, one of the wireless executives in the audience, disagreed with Mr. Desai’s assessment. “There’s plenty of opportunity for creativity,” he said. Carriers need to control their portal to serve “the best interest of the target market and subscriber base,” he said.

Laura Marriott, executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association, agreed that the industry may be too focused on the capabilities of the mobile technology instead of the consumer. But she disagreed with Mr. Desai’s assessment of the carrier’s role. Carriers “have been extremely cooperative,” she said.

Mr. Desai’s company received the award for best use of mobile marketing in North America for Epi to Go, an application on Conde Nast’s Visitors to can search for recipes and by selecting the Epi to Go option, those recipes and a shopping list are forwarded to the visitor’s cellphone. The application has been sponsored by the Turning Leaf Vineyards, part of the E. & J. Gallo Winery.

Other winners
Aerodeon, based in Turkey, won the award for best use of mobile marketing in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Its project, with Frito-Lay’s Doritos, involved a contest asking consumers which they preferred, love or money. Of just under 1 million participants, 86% said they preferred money. The marketer used information on the time of day the text messages arrived to plan media for TV and other outlets.

Fox Mobile Entertainment won a creativity award for its 24 Mobisodes.

Executives attending this year’s general session of the association, which has grown from 40 members last year to over 100, expect mobile marketing to boom in the coming months. “Our challenge is that we have to educate and evangelize and teach brand and content providers how to add mobile media to their cross-media campaigns,” said Ms. Marriott.

Louis Gump, VP-mobile for the Weather Channel and incoming chairman of the MMA, said his company is aggressively developing programming specifically for Verizon Wireless and Sprint’s Nextel offerings. Advertising is slated to appear starting next month. Mr. Gump said ads are being sold on the basis of a sponsorship for a specific time period, or on a cost per thousand impressions, though he declined to name marketers buying ads.

Upping the ante
Other media companies are upping the ante for the mobile phone. Tonight, in what is being touted as a branded entertainment and mobile media first, a new cellphone ring tone will be integrated into a TV show, and then sold in the next commercial break directly to cellphones through a short code text message.

When a phone rings on the CBS program “CSI: New York,” the characters will discuss the tone from Cold Play. “This is the biggest growth opportunity in this market—this is the next generation,” said Cyriac Roeding, VP-wireless, CBS Broadcasting digital media. Asked whether the audience could view the ring-tone plug as overstepping bounds, he said “There is no reason for a phone in the show to beep with a boring ring,” which would be inauthentic and not true to character, he said.

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