Mobile Messages That Resonate

I’ve got a little behind on my reading lately, finding myself with a thick pile of magazines cluttering the coffee table. The stack was a random assortment of back issues of “Wired,” an issue of “The Week,” a couple gossip weeklies (one just isn’t enough). I shoved them into a carry-on and headed to the airport.

On a smooth flight to Orange County (no delays, polite seatmates and no screaming babies), I made quick work of two issues of “Wired,” one “The Week” and the new “US Weekly.” Then, I got stuck making my way through the most recent “Wired.”

I’d read earlier in “The Week” that a U.N. agency reported that by the end of this year, over 50 percent of the world’s population will own a mobile phone. While math was never my forte, even I can calculate half of 6.6 billion (the world’s estimated population) is 3.3 billion. An impressive number when you consider that domestically, mobile penetration currently stands right around 255 million subscribers.

This newfound fact in mind, I was struck by a succession of full-page ads in “Wired.” More accurately, I was stuck on them. Two were for tier one wireless operators, the third for a mobile-enabled travel service offered by one of the big online booking companies. I glanced absentmindedly at the first, noticed the big red type of the second, and actually spent a solid 15 seconds glancing at the graphical imagery of the third ad. Halfway through the magazine, I realized something was bothering me. I flipped back and started paging from the beginning.

The full-page ad towards the front of the book was for a new “social networking” application utilizing GPS. I didn’t really get it at first glance. The headline was wordy and the ad was full of small-type short paragraphs in column format, with a kind of weird history overlay. Finally, I had to do a Google search to learn more. I now know it will a) cost me a monthly subscription fee; b) is currently open only to Sprint and Boost subscribers; and c) requires one of 20 or so Sprint GPS enabled handsets.

I’m not an average mobile consumer, and I still don’t get the ad. Imagine an average consumers’ reaction.

The second ad, for small business e-mail solutions, touts the leading US carrier’s “network.” This makes sense given the publication. It’s time e-mail extended beyond business in carriers’ minds, but the real issue is the ad’s punch line was literally almost lost in the fold, making it more work that it should be to grasp the message’s humor.

The third ad is a two-page spread introducing a new service related to travel, with a twist. Orbitz has formed a community of travelers who update their peers on everything from full airport parking garages to long security lines. These updates are accessible from the Web or a mobile device. The ad is graphically simple, with just a few lines of text at the bottom of the first page. Easy to understand, and even easier to know why it might be something worth joining (especially for those of us on first name terms with flight attendants). The second page furthers the basic interaction, and providing both the online and mobile Web addresses.

I realize “Wired” isn’t a magazine everyone reads. That said, the point is that out of the three ads I saw, it was only a non-wireless company that was able to make me understand the value of a mobile service in a simple print ad. If ads from the major carriers could do the same, they might just resonate with the consumers they set out to reach.

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