The Year of Mobile Marketing: Always Next Year?

Every year, it seems, is slated to be the Year of Mobile Marketing. It reminds me of the promise to celebrate Passover “next year in Jerusalem,” ritually intoned for 3,000 years — and counting.

Is mobile destined to be perennially filed under “wishful thinking,” or is there really momentum in the field? It looks like things may be picking up.

Publishers and content providers again are taking notice. This week, Time Warner announced it would invest $7.5 million in Glu Mobile, a company that makes games and other entertainment products for mobile devices. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive partnered with Proteus to create content for its eponymous titles, along with for Slate and BudgetTravelOnline.com. Forays into mobile video are coming from companies such as Fox and the NFL. Sprint and MobiTV’s live TV broadcasts even earned those companies the very first mobile Emmy Award.

I decided to check in with Laura Marriott for her take on the state of the industry. Laura was named head of the Mobile Marketing Association just a few weeks ago. The group announced this Tuesday that 27 new members have joined in the last few months. When Laura and I spoke two days later, she said another 11 companies had enlisted, including Sony Pictures Digital, Yahoo, and USATODAY.com.

“Mobile marketing is here,” Laura insists, saying that much of the association’s work over the past two years has concentrated on laying the foundation for this to occur.

“What we’ve been doing over the last couple years is creating the environment for mobile marketing, such as getting SMS interoperability. Then, the deployment of common shortcodes. Then we needed to develop a way for the brands, the carriers, to monetize that. Once that was in place, you were able to roll out plans cross-carrier. We rolled out industry codes of conduct, and consumer best practices (available as a PDF download) in May of this year. They include double opt-in and opt-out guidelines. We want to make sure when we roll out these campaigns we’re not spamming the consumers.”

What’s next?

“MMS interoperability within the year,” she promises, “Richer user experiences through picture messages. Mobile advertising standards and banner guidelines.”

Video is coming to the fore, but Laura is quick to remind marketers that marketing in the mobile channel includes everything from ringtones to customized wallpaper. “It’s the whole experience. We’re seeing lots of brands wrap that around. Madonna uses mobile,” she cites as an example. “She’s got wallpaper, ringtones, and tour updates.”

While Laura and other mobile marketing pioneers like to deny it, Madonna’s seems possibly the oldest demographic mobile campaigns skew toward. In fact, the majority of mobile campaigns I’ve been hearing about lately are all about music, aimed at the Young, and the Even Younger. Like the Backstreet Boys recent foray into SMS. And within days of Burger King’s CoqRoq site launch, CP+G tacked on a mobile component. San Francisco-based ipsh! got some 10 percent of the Lollapalooza Festival’s audience — 3,000 per day — to navigate a SMS “Mindfield” to compete for prizes. Other ipsh! clients include Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, and 50-Cent.

I’ve been pressing for examples of mobile marketing that don’t target music festival fans. Laura likes shortcodes on CPGs, such as a code on a bottle of shampoo that can instantly deliver a coupon to the consumer (and actually track offline conversions in an interactive channel!).

I asked ipsh! CEO Nihal Mehta to provide other examples of mobile-to-grownup marketing. He came up with quite a few. Kraft is targeting mothers with SMS recipes. “Mothers are learning to SMS to communicate with their children,” he points out, “they certainly know what a shortcode is. They text MEALS to get recipes when they’re in the supermarket.”

ipsh! is doing a lot with alcohol brands. Absolut has the shortcode VODKA on point-of-purchase displays. Text it in to rebrand your phone with the brand’s eyecatching wallpaper in different flavors. Budweiser’s text a bud lets you enter your friend’s number, a time, and a bar. They get a message saying, “Hey, X is buying you a Bud. Meet at X bar at X time.” Finally, Nihal said a recent Heineken SMS contest using the shortcode GREEN got an astonishing 10 percent response rate at a recent…music festival.

“This is the summer of the SMS music festival,” he confesses, but believes older demos are on the horizon. An announcement is expected soon from a major automaker. Their campaign will target males 30-50 with alerts when the new model is available at a local dealership.

Perhaps this is indeed the year of mobile, after all — if your marketing target is teen to young adult and you’re hawking an entertainment or a lifestyle brand.

I can’t help but wonder when will it be the Year of Mobile for everyone else? Will the young and early adopters first have to grow up, or will campaigns begin to target older (and wealthier) consumers sooner.

Maybe next year?

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