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Third Screen Comes Of Age: Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown assesses the prospects for mobile

Of 340 US marketing and agency p r o f e s s i o n a l s interviewed by Dynamic Logic in March 2007, 39 per cent stated that they planned to spend more on mobile advertising this year than they did in 2006. While those intending to increase spend on mobile outnumbered those planning to spend more on traditional media by almost three to one, a much larger group – 86 percent – planned to spend more on web-based marketing communication. Intriguingly, the 355 media sellers interviewed at the same time were more bullish on mobile, with 48 per cent expecting an increase in spending.

So why are media buyers less likely to increase spending on mobile than the web? Because mobile is a jungle full of booby traps, and marketers know it. Particularly in the US, conducting a mobile marketing campaign is reminiscent of the early days of internet advertising. With over a decade of experimentation and consolidation behind it, the web has become far easier to use. Today’s mobile environment, on the other hand, is just too complex. Shared standards across devices, networks and content providers are sorely lacking, and network databases promise, but rarely deliver, the ability to target individual users.

Failure to effectively navigate the complexities of mobile can have some unforeseen consequences. By example, a few weeks ago I was chatting with a couple of German media representatives about how many people used the full functionality of their mobile phones. In the course of conversation, one of them proudly showed me his company’s news feed on his phone, stating, “This is one of the first mobile ads we are running.” As I looked at the screen, I could see a banner with the letters “LEX” on it. Thinking that this must be a German company I had never heard of, I realized the ad was for Lexus only when my acquaintance mentioned the brand’s full name. It appears the ad had not been optimized for the mobile’s screen size.

This is just one example of the pitfalls that lie in wait for those who would like to advertise on mobile phones, but the potential payoff is huge. If ever a medium ought to be able to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time and place, this is it. Marketers, however, are well advised to invest in careful experimentation before committing large amounts of money to a budding medium.

So what can you do to make sure that your mobile campaign works? Here are a few suggestions:

Keep it simple
If the campaign is too complex, you are going to exclude those mobile tyros among us who have yet to master use of short-codes, WAP links or mailing photos. Nobody is going to learn to use their phone’s functions just to be able to respond to an ad.

Don’t forget the marketing
Because of the logistical complexity of mobile phone marketing, too many people focus on the technology and lose sight of the real objective, marketing. You still need to make sure that the right people are aware of the campaign.

The personal nature of mobile phones causes people to be less enthusiastic about encountering interruptive advertising on their phones than in other media like TV or the internet. Even so, if you can get to the right person, the response can be impressive. Steve Smith reports in MediaPost’s MobileInsider that Boost Mobile and mobile community provider AirG garnered 1.5 million contest entries off of a mobile campaign for a car customizer, West Coast Customs. This success was in large part due to the fact that Boost’s 3.8 million customers were urban youth most likely to be interested in pimping their cars.

While 98 per cent of the entries came in by phone, the Boost example also points to another success factor: the mobile advertising was part of a wider campaign involving in-store promotion, support on West Coast’s and Boost’s MySpace pages, as well as nationwide radio. Mobile needs to be integrated into a wider marketing effort if it is to be truly effective. Word-of-mouth and positive PR can also boost the impact of a campaign well beyond its direct investment.

Make it worth their while
What’s in it for the person you are hoping to reach? The easy answer is some form of incentive, such as money off, or free call-time. If direct response is what works for your brand, great, but if not, figure out what other benefit is going to make people willingly take part in the campaign. What can you offer that they cannot easily get through other media?

Test it
Don’t rely solely on response rates to judge success. One of the biggest missed opportunities of any interactive campaign is ignoring the 95 per cent or more who did not respond to the campaign. By using response rates to identify success, marketers lose sight of what might have been. All too often, direct response campaigns fail simply because the mailing database was not good or the communication went unread. To learn how to improve future campaigns, interview a cross-section of people who had the chance to respond to the campaign, but didn’t.

It ain’t over till it’s over
It will never really be over, but the pace of change will slow at some point. Mobile may not come of age in 2007, but it will mature significantly, as new companies spring up to fill gaps and unite the existing diverse options. Mobile aggregators like MyWaves now offer users an easier way to identify and select relevant content, which in turn offers advertisers a better chance to reach a relevant target audience. And Tocmag, which allows users and brands to create their own mini-magazines, offers the potential to facilitate social networking.

The world of mobile advertising will continue to evolve. As bandwidth and technology improve, mobile phones will market to a vast number of people using Internet- and TV-style ads, search, and branded content. We believe that for most brands, mobile marketing will be used most effectively for facilitating dialogue with consumers. By adding the third screen to the mix, marketers can create more extended conversations, as a connection is maintained across physical brand encounters, traditional media exposures and contact over the phone itself.

This extract was originally published in issue 25 of The WIRE, WPP's global newspaper (May 2007)

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About the author

Nigel Hollis
Chief Global Analyst
Millward Brown