Tattooing the Wireless Space

I’m contemplating murder.

I’m thinking about something slow and painful. Perhaps death by bludgeoning with a stack of logo-encrusted mouse pads. And, believe me, should I accomplish this ghoulish feat there is no jury that would convict me.

The target of my homicidal rage? That guy from Atlanta who constantly spams me about buying printing supplies. I’m sure many of you have received the same pitch. (On a good day I receive as many as nine emails from this troglodyte across multiple email addresses.)

At first, in my naiveti, I tried calling the 800 number specified in the email to remove myself from the list. I was subjected to an endless answering machine message that was obviously designed to wear me down so that I never got to the end of it. Not that it mattered: Waiting 10 minutes to leave my name and email address only increased the amount of spam I received.

Currently, the percentage of emails I receive devoted to spam runs at approximately 50 percent. Personally, I can’t imagine who in their right mind actually sends their credit card number to such obvious shysters, but somebody must, a testament to the power of email. However, a new and potentially much more intrusive power is about to be unleashed on the world: wireless!

This week in San Francisco, the Rich Media SIG starts the first in a series of seminars focused on developing advertising and marketing campaigns for wireless devices. To kick it off, I invited representatives from Phone.com, Beyond Interactive, Freestyle Interactive, and Targetnet to talk about what they are doing in the wireless space.

There is no doubt that wireless is the “next big thing.” Beyond Interactive, for instance, has opened an emerging technologies group to specifically deal with platforms like wireless. Matt Day, who spoke for Beyond Interactive at the SIG, believes that wireless devices symbolize a much more personal connection between individual and brand than has ever been achieved before. You carry your personal brands with you, via your cell phone and PDA, almost like a tattoo.

Matt envisions a world where strolling past a Starbucks will trigger a phone call offering you a discount coupon off a cup of coffee. As long as I’ve made that personal identification with the brand, allowing it to be literally branded on me and attached to my cellular hip, the experience will be good and reinforcing for the brand.

The guiding principle at Coca-Cola has always been to put Coke within an arm’s reach of desire. Think how much more efficient it would be if, as Coke, I could tell when you are actually within an arm’s reach of desire and could offer you an immediate incentive to act on that desire. Wireless makes that possibility a reality.

The problem with this Orwellian notion is that it’s a double-edged sword. It is almost impossible to mention such possibilities without making them sound like some “Big Brother”-ish nightmare. The key to success, however, lies in developing and managing that personal connection between brand and consumer, something that Beyond Interactive and other interactive firms getting into this wireless space are setting out to do.

For example, my “personal” brands include National Steel Guitars, a rather esoteric instrument designed for blues slide guitar playing. I would gladly tattoo National Steel into my personal wireless space if it would inform me of local blues concerts when I arrived in a strange city. Your brands might very well include Starbucks. (One friend of mine, whose love of Starbucks borders on addiction, is always on the lookout for the nearest fix as she walks down the street.)

The nightmare comes when the “printing supply” dealers step in and forcibly tattoo themselves into my space, the way that one dealer I mentioned earlier has done with email. When every store I pass is suddenly barking offers at me, and we are all driven mad by a cacophonous tintinnabulation of ringing bells from every wired pedestrian, then we’ve poisoned the well.

And it is a real threat. Matt asked everyone with a cell phone in the audience to hold it up. Nearly every one of the 150 attendees held up a device. We have become a cell phone culture. One of the audience members pointed out that current cell phones capable of surfing web sites leave a surfer’s cell phone number behind in the publishers’ web logs, with no capability to block it. Imagine what that means to today’s crop of spam mongers.

That is why I am glad to see responsible agencies like Beyond Interactive getting involved with these emerging technologies. By working now to figure out best practices for delivering wireless messages, perhaps we can keep the telemarketers off the airwaves while at the same time actually benefiting the consumer. Otherwise, instead of murder, I just might be contemplating suicide.

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