It seems like a long time ago, but the first modern wireless communications systems began only about 25 years back. The first digital systems were launched only 15 years ago. Mobile content has emerged in only the last 5 years, catching much of the wireless and entertainment world off guard. At this current pace, mobile devices, (in particular mobile phones) are positioned to eclipse the traditional Internet in terms of the speed of its disruptive impact on the way that entertainment is distributed and enjoyed.
In the last year, the U.S. mobile industry and related ecosystems such as entertainment have rallied to a point where varying stages of experimentation are taking place to unlock the promise of mobile networks and their accompanying devices. Although Europe already has rolled out these types of services, three significant U.S. constituencies are working to take advantage of advanced wireless technology now available and to fundamentally alter the way in which we view media; these three spheres of influence are mobile operators, entertainment publishers and advertising agencies.
Once these three spheres agree on some fundamental aspects of mobile entertainment production, distribution and advertising models, the United States might very well overtake other regions and lead a shift in global ad spending that could surpass the shifts which followed the emergence broadcast television in the 1940s, highway billboards in the 1950s, cable television in the 1980s, and the Web in the 1990s.
Although estimates vary, there will be in the vicinity of $450 billion in global ad spending by 2011, including all media formats. The ubiquity of mobile phones, their personal and visceral connection to the consumer, and their portability, all contribute the power of this new media platform to move significant percentages of this ad spending to mobile phones. But the questions remain: What will it take to reach mobile advertising’s tipping point? Are we there yet?
BUILD IT & THEY WILL COME
The success of mobile advertising is contingent on the simple fact that brands must feel they can reach their typical target number of consumers to feel their advertising spend was a good investment. For this to happen, mobile operators, entertainment publishers and advertisers must collaborate to enable a more entertaining mobile experience.
For any advertising business model to succeed, you need an audience. Entertaining, interesting and engaging content (such as mobile video, mobile music and mobile games) have a greater chance of attracting the magic target number of eyeballs. If it is not interesting, no one will watch it, because the “wow” factor of entertainment on a cell phone is already over. The industry is in dire need of mobile content pioneers to create a “did you see that?” moment in mobile wherein some information, entertainment or material available first on mobile phones can spur millions of people to tune in.
Although editing of entertainment for other platforms is an appropriate experimental step, brands need to successfully integrate mobile into their communications platforms and thereby create mobile-specific entertainment that is truly compelling. Apple has taken a step in the right direction with new mobile services such as exclusive iTunes-only releases of popular music such as “Bob Marley and The Wailers – Best Of: The Early Years,” the first comprehensive collection of Marley’s early reggae material, in addition to Apple teaming with Starbucks to enable the wireless purchase of songs playing in a Starbucks café via an iPod Touch device.
More importantly, this mobile-specific content will call for mobile-specific creative executions by ad agencies on behalf of brands. The nature of the various media systems in wireless demands a mobile-specific media planning exercise. That mobile-specific media plan should result in the ad displaying appropriately within text messages, images, music applications, videos and games in pre-determined places and at pre-determined times creating real value for the media buyer. Interactive agencies such as Goodby, Silverstein, AKQA, DraftFCB, R/GA seem to be on the way to delivering this promise.
RELEVANCY & STICKINESS
In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a children’s show called “Blues Clues,” which uses repetition to create stickiness. The Blues Clues program was designed with the fact that children don’t watch a TV show when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. Rather they watch when they understand and look away when they are confused. This is how the program has effectively cultivated millions of pint-sized fans and effectively captured their short attention spans.
Mobile advertising is very much the same dynamic. With sometimes only 1 second to grab consumers’ attention while tapping away on their mobile devices, it is imperative that mobile ads are simple and to the point. Upon grabbing the consumer’s attention, what may be obvious, but is often forgotten, is the relevancy of the message which will retain the consumer’s interest. In order for mobile advertising to be effective and take off in the way that various analyst firms are predicting, as an industry we must focus on advertising that is precise and contextual versus disseminating “mobile spam” which will create a backlash of resentment from consumers.
Consumers must see the “punch line” quickly before their interest wanes. They must feel they have a choice and benefit from viewing a mobile ad. If a Kellogg’s brand decides to strike a marketing deal with the upcoming George Lucas sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” there is an opportunity to create a mobile advertisement that displays prior to a mobile movie trailer, wallpaper, ringtone, game or every time a text message is sent with the word “movie” as a part of the text. They might display an interstitial ad which shows an image from the movie and offer a coupon for discounted tickets after the consumer is given the choice to opt-in to view the entire ad.
WHO WILL LEAD THE WAY?
As a group, we need to speed the maturation of the business model for how advertising inventory will be created and sold. Fundamentally, the spheres of entertainment, wireless and advertising need to experiment far more rapidly together in order to discover some formulas for optimizing the revenue for ad-supported mobile content. Witness the explosive growth in glossy print, television, outdoor billboards, celebrity endorsement, Web-based display and Web-based search, once advertising standards were set. Once we collectively arrive at a number of standards for advertising formats within messaging, video, information applications, music and games, each component of the value chain can mature to the point of profitability. An orderly marketplace benefits all participants.
That said, standards are not the only key to the success of mobile advertising. In addition to mobile content pioneers, the industry also needs to identify an advertising pioneer – a major brand that will commit to a mobile-only execution of their advertising campaign. I believe the new group of “viral” brands which have become mega brands with no traditional spend are ideal pioneers. Jamba Juice, Hollister, Starbucks, Silk Soy, White House/Black Market all became substantial brands without much traditional offline buying.
JOIN THE PARTY
Web-based search and discovery processes for finding, selecting and purchasing entertainment have been effective, but consumers still find the experience with their mobile phones unpredictable. Finding, discovering and learning more about online interactive advertising may provide clues to enable consumers to enjoy their mobile content wherever, whenever and with ads dynamically and appropriately inserted into the experience as a revenue model. The emergence of the mobile phone as a media device, as opposed to a retail experience device might allow mobile entertainment to join the mobile advertising party.
We are nearing the tipping point for mobile advertising in the United States where leading global brands have the opportunity to roll out significant mobile advertising campaigns integral to multichannel promotions. Dynamic ad-serving within all types of mobile applications is the logical first step to bringing all parties – mobile operators, entertainment producers and distributors and advertising agencies – together for maximum benefit. My hope is that they will recognize this and work together to build an appropriate mobile experience for the consumer that lets them manage relevant advertisements.
Wood is senior vice president and general manager of the Americas for Amobee Media Systems.