Ad Opportunities in Handheld Devices

Recently, I upgraded from a clunky old PalmPilot Professional to a brand spankin’ new Handspring Visor Deluxe. I hadn’t used my PalmPilot in a while. The pre-3Com model had only 2MB of memory, which was basically maxed out with all the applications, email and contacts I had stored. Now I can enjoy the latest Palm applications, including Vindigo and AvantGo.

Handhelds represent a tremendous opportunity for online marketers. According to an article I found on CyberAtlas, U.S. PDA sales reached 1.3 million in the first half of 2000, equaling the sales volume achieved in all of 1999. Of the units sold, the two market leaders, Palm and Handspring, use the same platform (Palm OS) and own a combined 87 percent of the market. CyberAtlas cites the NPD Group as the source of this data.

I was brainstorming on some ideas for leveraging the Palm computing platform to the benefit of both consumers and advertisers. (Other than advertising with Vindigo and AvantGo, which are perfectly good advertising platforms in their own right.) I think there are plenty of opportunities to use Palm devices to get your advertiser’s name in front of appropriate consumers:

Opportunity #1 Branded applications: Looking at some of the Palm applications I’ve downloaded, I notice that most are shareware, meaning that I’ve downloaded a trial version of an application. If I like the app, I can send a fee to the developer and continue to use it. Wouldn’t it be cool if advertisers decided to underwrite the cost of some of these applications?

For instance, I downloaded an application that gives me the ability to look up telephone area codes in any U.S. location. The software developer wants seven bucks for the full version. But wouldn’t it be easier if an advertiser like AT&T paid a fee to the developer to insert its branding and gave me the application for free? As a consumer, I’d get a useful application. As an advertiser, AT&T would get its name in front of Palm users in a contextually relevant way. The Palm developer would lock in payment for his time and effort in developing the app. It’s win-win-win all around.

I also have a shareware app that helps me manage expenses, one that plays audio files, one that helps me find cross streets in Manhattan, and one that serves as a remote control for my television. Why couldn’t these apps have been brought to me by advertisers like American Express, RealNetworks, the Village Voice or RCA, respectively?

Opportunity #2 Sponsored data files for existing applications: I’m not alone in downloading JFile Pro for my handheld. Over 20,000 people have downloaded it from CNET’s as of this writing. As an advertiser, maybe you would want to release a useful database that could be tied in with your product. A record label might release its catalog in this format, classified by genre. Or maybe a restaurant chain might release a database of all its locations so that users could look them up by geography. Not only would these data files provide value to the user, but they would provide value to the advertiser as well. And the person who developed the original application couldn’t be too upset either, as the data file wouldn’t work without using the original software.

What makes the Palm platform an exciting one for marketers is its potential to be highly viral. As most Palm devices have 8MB of memory or less, applications have to be pretty lean. That means that simple applications can be passed from one user to another fairly easily. Not only are most apps small enough to be attached to an email and thus offered to other users, but they can also be “beamed.” Most Palm devices have a built-in infrared port that allows users to beam applications and data to one another with ease. If advertisers develop applications that are useful, those applications can very easily be passed from user to user, thus extending the brand and message.

One can start “infecting” Palm users by uploading an application or data file to any of the Palm download sites. CNET is just one. There are several others, including ZDNet, Tucows, Jumbo and PalmGear HQ. Once you have an app to contribute, these sites make distribution easy.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • As an advertiser, do I have contextually relevant and useful pieces of information that I can deliver to Palm users?

  • How can I best leverage that functionality or content to present my brand message?
  • Is there anyone in my organization who is familiar with development tools for the Palm computing platform and can help with development?

You might find it’s worth looking into this Palm thing as a marketing vehicle.

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