Behavioral Targeting and Mobile Ad Opportunities

For the past week, I’ve been in Japan. I’ve seen plenty of things you hear about, but rarely see, in the U.S. In particular is how the Japanese use their cell phones as “mobile lifestyle devices” rather than as mobile voice or data devices. Just about everyone here, young and old, type away on their cell phones. I’ve even see people typing while walking or riding their bicycles.

The Japanese utilize their cell phones for email and text messages because it’s cheaper to use data than voice. Beyond that, I’ve seen people use cell phones as media devices to download weather alerts, ring tones, music with sound quality as good as a portable stereo, even TV content. Perhaps the best way to describe Japan’s cell phone technology is to quote my girlfriend, “None of the cell phones in the U.S. impress me.”

I second that.

What does this have to do with behavioral targeting?

Behavioral targeting can provide greater value and targeting ability when it’s applied to site-based ad inventory. To apply it to mobile ad opportunities, consider targeting consumers based on opportunities that fall somewhere between behavior and relevance. Ad opportunities aren’t conducive to the mobile environment at present. So though it can’t be defined as pure behavioral targeting, a consumer’s behavior does play a role in the type of advertising delivered. Wouldn’t it be great if digital ad opportunities could be combined with the robust mobile services that exist in countries such as Japan?

One service offered on Japanese cell phones is mobile greetings sent from one phone to another. Often, these messages are sent if someone’s running late or needs to send apologies. I’ve seen birthday and holiday greetings that are quite similar to the ones on greeting-card sites, such as American Greetings.

When a consumer is about to send a birthday greeting, couldn’t an advertiser sponsor the message? It could suggest the consumer also send flowers or a gift with the mobile greeting. It may very well be mobile services such as these exist in the U.S., but I’ve yet to see one.

The ring-tone industry is quite large in Japan, much larger than what we have in the U.S. Ring tones sound much better here, too, in terms of audio quality. So, people download them more consistently. In the U.S., ring-tone or music companies could up-sell by suggesting higher-quality ring tones or music downloads similar to ones the consumer previously downloaded.

Perhaps most impressive are the cell phones that function as mobile entertainment devices. These have the ability to deliver music and TV programming. Yes, phones with built-in MP3 players already exist in the U.S., but a number of cell phones here also serve as portable video players with built-in DVRs. Advertisers could target based on the type of programming consumers watch on their mobile phones.

Some of these advertising opportunities might not yet exist or even be feasible. But whenever there’s content, whether music or video, advertisers always seems to find a way to get involved. From what I’ve seen here in Japan, I’m very excited about the possibility of behavior/preference-based advertising through cell phones. My only wish is for some of these mobile services to be offered sooner rather than later in the U.S.

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