Mobile Marketing: The Time’s Right to Get a WAP Site

In 2000, there was a lot of empty hype over the potential benefits of WAP (define) mobile technology in Europe. BT exhorted consumers to “Surf the Mobile Internet,” despite a lack of capable handsets or network capacity. Now, consumer use of WAP is becoming a concrete reality. As is marketer interest in the channel, for customer acquisition, retention, and development are growing rapidly.

With the mobile telephony landscape across Europe growing ever more sophisticated, multifunctional, high-speed consumers are learning to do so much more with their phones than simple voice communications. As a consequence, the volume of mobile Internet traffic for information and entertainment objectives burgeons. O2 recently announced over 1 billion pages of mobile Internet content were accessed through its U.K. portal in Q4 2004 alone.

Most traffic today is still directed to the mobile operator portals of Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, and others, who offer walled-garden content areas and limited ad opportunities. Yet a growing proportion is being driven to newly created, independent, off-portal WAP sites.

More marketers are recognizing the benefits WAP offers for increased mobile content and application delivery, richer creativity, and deeper consumer interaction (and, therefore, data capture). Features that go way beyond SMS (define) and even MMS (define) remain largely underutilized. For evidence, Minick, the mobile content and service developer, worked on fewer than 12 WAP portals in 2004. It has over 100 in development today.

The key to mobile marketing is offering consumers a reward for their interaction, so content-heavy WAP sites are looking ever-more appealing in a marketing setting. Rich functionality, on top of consumers’ acceptance of the medium and mass-market penetration of color phones, is likely to lead to brands launching a rash of WAP sites this year.

So who’s using WAP sites in Europe at present? How? And why?

Not surprisingly, we’re seeing content owners and distributors as the early movers in the space, naturally extending their assets into the new mobile channel:

  • Film. For the launch of “Batman Begins,” a movie much anticipated by the mobile-savvy young adult sector, Warner Brothers created a marketing and revenue-generating WAP site offering a game, a movie synopsis, transcribed interviews, a photo gallery, and paid-for, downloadable ring tone and wallpaper content.

  • Radio. Chrysalis Radio launched its first direct-to-consumer WAP site this year for its GalaxyFM station. The richer mobile environment gives Chrysalis the opportunity to increase listener loyalty and open new revenue streams with premium mobile content.
  • TV. The U.K.’s Channel 4 increased audience interaction, participation, and revenue generation around the original “Big Brother” TV program this year by launching a dedicated BB6 mobile Internet site.
  • Newspapers. “The Sun” recently launched a WAP site to give readers further access to news, gossip, and Page 3 tidbits.
  • Museums. Even the National Portrait Gallery got in on the action recently, integrating WAP technology into an exhibition for the first time. Visitors to Lee Miller’s photographic exhibit were be able to text ‘go leemiller’ to be taken to a mobile Internet site and view a virtual gallery on their handsets.

Big brand advertising are also developing in this new emergent channel:

  • Sports apparel. Nike is one of the biggest global brands to launch a standalone mobile Internet site as part of its global mobile strategy. The WAP site, for its global Nike Showdown street skills initiative, enables users to view videos from contestants and vote on them via the phone, in addition to providing a range of other mobile content.

  • Fashion apparel. When Levi’s launched its latest 501s marketing campaign this month, a WAP site was a central part of its digital strategy. Ann Summers, the lingerie and sex toy retailer, became one of the first main street retailers in the U.K. to launch a concerted push toward the mobile Internet. It launched its own independent WAP presence, featuring a downloadable voucher redeemable in stores and fully integrated with the company’s retail strategy.
  • Automotive. Mercedes-Benz become the latest car manufacturer to embark on a mobile Internet strategy. The company launched a WAP site as part of its integrated campaign for the B-Class model. The dedicated site is being promoted via the company’s above-the-line press and outdoor activity.
  • Food and beverage. Walkers Crisps launched its first foray onto the mobile Internet with a WAP site to support one of the U.K.’s biggest on-pack mobile marketing campaigns. The campaign offers the chance to win an iPod mini every five minutes throughout September and once a day in October and November by texting in a unique code found on packages. The WAP site has been launched to offer losers a reward for entering, with free ring tones and wallpapers.

As consumers become increasingly comfortable and confident surfing the mobile Internet, facilitated by the latest mobile technology, the time is coming when marketers can no longer ignore the WAP channel. Forget your Web site; starting thinking about your WAP site!

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