This year’s U.S. Presidential Campaign Season is raising questions about the
candidates’ Internet and wireless savviness. However, that national
spotlight also shines on some of wireless’ own weaknesses.
Barack Obama uses multiple wireless devices and is a certifiable BlackBerry addict. John McCain, on the other hand, relies on staffers and his wife Cindy to surf the Web for him. McCain also is on record as saying he feels no need to use e-mail.
Lev Grossman, a writer for Time magazine, recently questioned whether the Presidential candidates’ use or non-use of new technology should raise questions about his ability to lead the country over the next four years.
Grossman rightly pointed out that the Internet has grown to be such an integral part of our society and culture that it’s hard to ignore; the incoming President should have a working knowledge of what it is and use it regularly.
“We are way past the point where we can treat the Internet as if it were some kind of nerd Narnia only tangentially connected to the real world. In the next few years, the President is going to have to make decisions about Internet surveillance, Net neutrality, cyberwarfare, and online privacy, just to name a few issues,” he wrote in a recent column.
You can extend that same argument to wireless as well. But as much as we want our next President to be operationally literate with the Internet and wireless technology, the wireless industry also must hold up its end of the bargain.
Take a look at Obama’s use of SMS to announce his running mate. It was a brilliant use of grass-roots technology. But we all witnessed the inherent weaknesses that the wireless industry must address as it shifts into mobile marketing mode. As Andy Seybold points out in his article on page 30, “Some people received Obama’s text message as scheduled; some got it hours later and some did not get it all.”
Would that be acceptable in a mobile marketing campaign?
When I originally reported on Obama’s text campaign for FirstNews last month, I signed up to receive the SMS. Who doesn’t want to be in the first-to-know crowd? I felt completely deflated when I walked into my aunt’s house and she asked, “Did you hear about Biden?”she had seen the TV bulletin an hour earlier.
My disappointment soon turned to anger. I signed up for the text message, knowing full well that the price of that information was giving out my cell phone number and my e-mail address not to a little coffee shop down the street, mind you, but to a major political campaign.
Even though I didn’t receive the text message, I’ve since been bombarded with messages from the Obama camp, including a video clip from Michele Obama and another from Joe Biden. Virtually every day, I’m reminded by the Democratic camp that I didn’t get my SMS.
Is that what mobile marketers want their customers to take away from a new campaign?
Although Nielsen Mobile reported that Obama sent out some 2.9 million messages, Keynote Systems conducted its own tests on the Obama ’08 Campaign short code. From Aug. 13 to Aug. 22, it reported that the campaign achieved consistent availability only slightly more than 50% of the time. According to Shlomi Gian,
Keynote’s director of mobile business development, he doesn’t think you can blame the carrier because it would be highly unlikely that there might be an outage in two cities at the same time.
As of press time, some industry insiders suggested there needed to be more than one aggregator, providing backup or redundancy. But it could have been other factors. For instance, Alykhan Govani, CEO of aggregator MX Telecom North America, said it could also have been carrier downtime, application downtime and system capacity.
Obama’s high-profile campaign should strike a cautionary note for the wireless industry and for its mobile marketing partners. There’s no question that mobile marketing is the next great medium. In order to deliver the efficiency that marketers have come to expect through other media, we will need orders of magnitude improvement in redundancy and assurance of dispatch and receipt.
If a brand launches a similar SMS campaign, it has every reason to expect that all messages will reach the intended recipients. And the wireless industry should be just as confident in the entire process to be able to guarantee it. Without this confidence, the industry could suffer death by a thousand SMS cuts.