Some Inalienable Truths (So Far) of Wireless Advertising

Undoubtedly, wireless advertising is very much in its infancy. Yet even in its babyhood some early truths seem to be developing. Are these truths eternal? Probably not. But they are the best we’ve got right now, and they are worth summarizing.

First, some consensus has developed around what wireless ads do best (at least given where the technology is today). Most industry insiders agree that wireless ads are most compelling if they are time and location sensitive as well as highly targeted and personalized. Obviously the reverse is also true. Wireless ads that could just as well be banner ads or billboards are ineffective and irritating.

Second, most pundits are more or less in agreement that the whole thing will fall apart if not driven by a true opt-in approach; people will rebel en masse if their cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are invaded by unwanted ads. Intrusion into one’s private device is bad enough, but in the case of cell phones, the idea that the users could actually have to pay for advertising through additional minutes is nothing short of maddening. Obviously, opt-in — and the more detailed, the better — will be the real key to the ability to deliver a highly targeted audience. In fact, we will see true one-to-one targeting come to fruition on wireless in a way that has proved difficult on the wired Web.

Third, a point that cannot be overstated: Wireless is not the Web without wires. An entirely new paradigm is being created around wireless advertising, one that blurs the traditional distinctions between ads and commerce. Advertisers and content providers that attempt to simply transfer their Internet advertising strategies into a wireless context will be sorely disappointed with the results.

What makes for a good wireless ad? I particularly like the framework presented by Dirk Herbert, OmniSky’s director of research and planning, at the recent mTargeting Conference/Mobile 2000 in San Francisco. He proposed five key rules of advertising for PDAs (though I think they are pretty applicable to cell phones as well):

  1. Immediate action of some kind must be possible. This can be saving a coupon, emailing or calling for more information, or transacting, but you have to be able to do something with the ad.
  2. The ad must be relevant and task-focused. People don’t surf on their phones and PDAs; they are using them for a particular purpose. Ads must similarly have purpose.
  3. Ads must be ignorable and must not interfere with navigation or usability. OmniSky’s research shows that formats such as interstitials are likely to be very unpopular for this reason.
  4. Ads must not affect service performance. If users perceive that they have to wait to make a call because an ad is downloading, they will be seriously turned off.
  5. Ads should pull, not push. Users want to be in control of their ad viewing. They want to decide what ads they view — and when.

Similarly, Perry Allison, VP of strategic alliances at SkyGo, reported that a recently completed test the company conducted in Boulder, CO, revealed that the most effective ads were interactive, had an engaging call to action, and provided a compelling promotional offer.

Does all this mean that wireless ads can play no role in branding? Au contraire. Tune in next week for a discussion of how branding will evolve in a wireless context.

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