One in Five Users Gives Mobile Search and Audio Ads Thumbs Up

More than a quarter of the people responding to a new survey said sponsored text links that appear as a result of Web searches would be their preferred form of mobile phone advertising.

The research, commissioned by mobile pay-per-call ad provider Ingenio, found that 26 percent of the 4,123 adult respondents reacted favorably to the idea of search-based mobile marketing. However, there was also some approval of audio ads that would play while the caller is waiting for another party to answer, said Ingenio. It said 21 percent of those surveyed had a positive response to that idea.

Text messages from an advertiser were the least-supported form, according to the report. Twenty percent of those surveyed said text message offers were deemed “at least somewhat acceptable.”

The study, conducted by Harris Interactive, confirmed prior Ingenio data that showed most mobile phone searches are for local businesses such as restaurants, hotels and entertainment services. In the new study, Ingenio found 74 percent of people who have dialed 411 on their cell phones were looking for a business, and that “phone and address listings are the most frequently sought-after types of services.”

Just 30 percent of the mobile phone owners surveyed could recall seeing or hearing an advertisement on their device during the past year. “That says to us there’s a giant opportunity… a greenfield opportunity for businesses to place themselves in front of a huge audience,” said Ingenio Chief Marketing Officer Marc Barach.

The movement to ad-supported mobile phone service is likely to begin with information services. Whereas service providers now charge users fees for 411 searches, this structure is likely to give way to searches that are free but serve up advertising, said Barach. “You listen to an ad that is relevant to your query,” he said. “Then you have a choice of following that advertiser path or staying on the phone and getting the listing you asked for.”

Jingle Networks also provides a free information service under the Free411 name.

Barach said he was most surprised by the study’s findings relating to mobile phone ownership. “The finding that mobile phones now exceed landlines for all age groups is pretty powerful stuff,” said Barach.

The survey showed that more than four out of five adults in the U.S. own a cell phone while 71 percent have a land-line or home phone. It also found that 89 percent of those 18 to 34 years old own cell phones or smartphones, but only 57 percent of that group have a land-line phone.

The key to successful search-based mobile advertising is accurate targeting, said Barach. That’s because, unlike a PC’s Web browser, “the tolerance for error is that much smaller on the small screen.”

He believes mobile advertising is going to blossom quickly, particularly if phones with larger screens and better Web browsing follow the iPhone’s lead and become commonplace. Eventually, wireless carriers will drastically reduce their fees for data plans as the space becomes monetized by advertising, Barach predicted.

“That’s really the silver lining to bringing more advertising to mobile [from a consumer point of view],” he said. “It will make the cost come down and ultimately be free.”

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