Rush to Mobile Marketing Will Lead Only to Fool's Gold

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Note to marketers: The mobile phone is not a toy. And it isn't a TV or a computer. So you should all follow the advice of HP's Scott Berg and quit trying to shove advertising -- often irrelevant, often unwanted -- into consumers' handsets.

Despite all the unhinged hype about mobile marketing -- billions of dollars to be had on the third screen! -- the sector so far has shown itself ripe for little more than annoyance and abuse. In the rush to extract gold from a new medium, marketers are trampling over common sense.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the third screen should not be seen as a medium in the traditional sense. Marketers who view it as such -- another channel to "sell the hell out of" -- are setting themselves up for disappointment. Very few media owners have content people want on the third screen. ESPN is one of the lucky, and even there, its content -- sports scores and stats -- falls into the category of "information."

That's what people use their phones for: information and communication. And it's on the information end that marketers have real opportunities. Concert promotions, point-of-sale alerts and search come immediately to mind.

As the worldwide media director for HP, Mr. Berg is trying to figure out the smartest way to go about mobile marketing. He says HP's mobile strategy will be based on the thinking that the mobile phone is a utility for consumers. That's the right approach. If a consumer is standing in a retail outlet and using a phone to seek information about personal computers, that's a golden opportunity for HP (or Dell or Toshiba). Such advertising probably would be welcome.

But what consumers don't want is to have their phones ring only to find that some random marketer is trying to sell them something. Marketers flirt with danger when they start interrupting the communication aspect of a mobile phone with push marketing. Consumers go to great lengths to avoid advertising on TV and on the web, so it's nothing short of delusional to expect them to passively accept it on their phones. As Mr. Berg points out, "There's going to be a backlash by consumers if we start to push text messages or voicemail messages, and that's going to lead immediately to legislation."

And there's already enough of that in this industry.
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