AvantGo Launches New Mobile Sites; Works to Build Audience

Dot-com bust survivor AvantGo is building on its mobile marketing successes by launching rich mobile Web sites for auto brands including GM and Mercedes-Benz. Still, if the free Sybase iAnywhere service is to remain successful in the new, more-competitive mobile environment, it must reach beyond its current base of mostly-male business class consumers and early tech adopters.

AvantGo Senior Director Neil Versen describes current users of the service as “alpha consumers.” Many of those users have their PDAs and smartphones provided by their employer, so it makes sense that luxury vehicle brands, B-to-B advertisers like HP, tech advertisers such as Verizon and business-aimed media brands like Entrepreneur.com have created marketing and media channels on the service. Travel advertisers including United and Marriott also place ads in AvantGo content.

To appeal to a wider variety of advertisers, increased mass market smartphone usage may be key. “Honestly, we’re not growing as fast as we want to, but part of that is what’s happening in the market,” suggested Versen, noting, “adoption of smartphones is not happening very quickly.” That’s partly because cost, complexity and concern over mobile viruses has deterred enterprise adoption.

Most AvantGo’s seven million users access its more than 1,000 ad-supported news, sports and weather, games, comparison shopping and travel sites through Internet-enabled PDA devices. They provide demographic data such as age, gender, income and profession when registering to access the free content. AvantGo uses that information to target display advertising. Some users upload the content to their devices through desktop synchronization.

Ads promoting GM’s Buick Lucerne channel are currently running on AvantGo and will throughout the year. GM has 9 product-line specific channels dedicated to models such as the 2007 Cadillac Escalade and the Saturn SKY; the sites feature exterior and interior photos, key vehicle features, options lists, color choices and dealer location searches. Versen explained that these new mobile marketing channels, which were kicked off in Q3 2005 with a Jeep Commander channel, offer more in-depth information than the brochure-style channels AvantGo offered in the past.

“People were using these ‘brochures’ as a way of learning more about the product, but also to shop with,” noted Versen. “We started to figure out that, hey, these guys are in-market….They’re looking for something to go shop with.” About 40 percent of AvantGo advertising on a monthly and quarterly basis is geared towards marketing channel formats, according to Versen.

On May 2, a marketing channel promoting the Toyota Camry is planned to go live, as is a CNET Auto Reviews media channel on May 9. Targeted ads promoting all marketing channels are served on AvantGo’s homepage or within its media channels.

Toyota is also set to sponsor the Sudoku game channel beginning in late this month or early next month, according to Versen. AvantGo sells most of the sponsorships for its media channels, and runs ads for other advertisers within those channels in non-exclusive sponsorship cases. Exclusive media channel sponsors include Budweiser and Michelob, which sponsor The SportingNews and MarketWatch channels respectively.

In addition to launching new media channels like the U.S. Postal Service-sponsored Entrepreneur.com and Xerox-sponsored PC World recently, AvantGo has added sponsored game channels including Microsoft Office Trivia and the GolfPride Golf Channel.

AvantGo is in talks with a consumer electronics retailer regarding a potential channel, and Versen hopes to have two major consumer electronics brands selling high definition televisions or digital cameras signed on as advertisers in time for the holiday season buying rush. The service also hopes to convince supermarket chains to create channels that would provide sale information and assist with shopping lists. Both efforts could help establish the company as a viable place for more general consumer brands to advertise.

Though AvantGo’s free ad-supported service is unique among numerous paid-subscription mobile content services (including the V CAST service from AvantGo advertiser, Verizon), Versen suspects that others could introduce similar offerings in the near future. In order to thrive, he stressed, the service must “stay ahead of the technology.” The main barrier is the audience level, he continued. “We want to continue to grow the audience. We want to make sure we’re on the right devices and that’s the key because the business model has already proven itself.”

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