Implementing Wireless Campaigns: The Choice of Device

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the types of companies that have been early adopters of m-commerce and wireless advertising.

This week, I’m going to begin looking at the choices companies have to implement their wireless campaigns and at some of the complexities this fledging industry is facing. I’ll start with one of the many decisions facing a company considering a wireless strategy: choosing the type of device that will deliver their wireless messages.

In other words, will their ad or m-commerce message be delivered via cell phone or personal digital assistant (PDA), or will it be delivered via both?

Device Matters

While choosing a device may seem like a relatively tactical consideration, in the wireless world it becomes an important issue for several reasons.

First, the differences in screen size mean that one can execute very different types of campaigns depending on which device is being used. PDA campaigns can be far more graphics intensive and can handle more text and navigation, whereas cell-phone campaigns must be simple and short due to the extremely constrained screen size. This means that the agency involved must be familiar with and proficient at designing for either medium.

But beyond campaign design issues, the device you choose also has other important inventory implications. Unlike the online ad industry, which is drowning in excess inventory, wireless ad inventory is constrained. Why? One of the most significant issues is the role of cell-phone carriers.

The Role of Carriers

As the owners of the subscriber base and the platform that reaches wireless users, cell-phone carriers essentially control access to cell-phone users. To allow advertising to take place on their networks, they must see a clear upside for themselves. Right now, most of them do not. In fact, it is their fear of the downside that is keeping the lid on wireless inventory.

The main business issue on carriers’ minds is subscriber churn. Implementing any initiative that might irritate customers and increase subscriber churn is terrifying to most carriers. For that reason, most have been taking wireless-advertising experimentation slowly.

While each carrier has taken a somewhat different route, most are carefully controlling trials with limited access to subscribers. This means limited amounts of inventory — a problem for advertisers trying to roll out national campaigns with extensive reach.

PDA Inventory Issues

There are also inventory issues with PDAs. PDA users have two wireless options:

  • The first is a true wireless option — accessing the Internet in real time from the PDA. That, obviously, requires a Web-enabled device. The market penetration of those is pretty low at this point, which again limits available inventory.

  • The second option for PDA users is to use a synching technology with a regular (non-Web-enabled) PDA. This essentially allows PDA users to upload and download Web content when they synch their PDAs. Although there are plenty of PDA users, relatively few of them are using this type of synching technology on a regular basis. This, too, constrains available inventory.

So, where does this lead the advertiser and the agency? Currently, a national-level media buy on wireless requires piecing together available inventory to attain desired reach and frequency numbers. (Yes, companies have sprung up to fill this role — I’ll be looking at major players in many categories in the next several weeks.)

But, as in the early days of online advertising, buying wireless advertising is still a time-intensive and inefficient proposition.

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