The Dilemmas of Wireless Web Advertising

Put the world’s two hottest technologies — the Internet and wireless communications — together and you get a lot of hype. Everyone is talking about the wireless web, and advertisers need to put it in perspective. Email is a killer app, and people want constant access to it. But let’s face it: Surfing the web on a two-and-a-half-inch inch LED screen just doesn’t cut it.

Email Is Key

According to The Strategis Group’s Internet User Trends study (released last October), email is the mobile application that is head-and-shoulders above all others. A full 75 percent of Internet users said they would be interested in accessing their email on the go. Only 42 percent expressed an interest in accessing word processing files and spreadsheets, with another 42 percent desiring mobile access to their personal contact directory. Smaller percentages wanted remote access to their calendar/schedule and personal finance files.

Of course, mobile phones aren’t the only way of accessing the web remotely. You can access the web via your laptop, via a personal digital assistant (such as the Palm VII), via hotel room computers, via airport kiosks, at Internet cafes, and many other ways.

Wireless Portals

The Strategis Group recently studied the growing battle to become the dominant wireless portal. The study, “U.S. Wireless Portals, Strategies and Forecasts,” revealed that 34 percent of wireless users are interested in wireless portal service, and that a majority of those interested would be willing to receive advertising in return for discounted monthly fees.

So, there’s at least some room for optimism. Besides, the public’s abiding desire for anytime/anywhere email makes opt-in email all the more important as an advertising tool.

The Problems With Wireless Ads

Still, the downside is tremendous. Ad dollars are driven by the richness of the medium, which explains why television remains the lion of the advertising jungle. Wireless phones are constrained by their tiny size, their small bandwidth, and their lack of color, sound, and video. Typing on them is cumbersome, slow, and frustrating. Yes, you can order “War and Peace” from Amazon on your Sprint handset. However, you could also read “War and Peace” in the time that it takes to place the order.

Segmentation of Interest

Advertising minds want to know: Who is interested in using these wireless applications? The “Internet User Trends” study got some expected — and unexpected — answers to this question.

First, interest in the applications listed above (email, word processing, contact directory, etc.) is highest among young adults and falls increasingly among older age groups. Home-and-work Internet users are significantly more interested than work-only or home-only users. Educated users are more eager for mobile apps than less educated users. Men are slightly more interested in on-the-go applications than women, and income is for the most part a weak predictor of interest.

To sum up, if your customer is 22 years old, educated, and uses the Internet at home and work, then he’s a shoo-in for mobile apps. And the advertising that goes along with it.

Some Wireless Advertising Tips

As you plot your wireless ad strategy, here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t bet the farm on wireless advertising. Yes, it’s growing, but the dollars will be scarce for a long time to come. I can’t picture EDS plunking down a million bucks for a cat-herding commercial on cell phones. The bandwidth, graphics, subscribers, and interactivity just aren’t there.
  2. Think email. Wireless phones and other mobile devices do email far better than they do graphics. I’ve long been a champion of opt-in advertising, and the advent of the wireless web helps make my point.
  3. Segment your audience. It is predictable who will be interested in mobile apps. In addition to the segmentation criteria listed above, there are probably some more, like occupation. Sales professionals, executives, and realtors are probably good candidates, for example.

The hype will be with us for a while. It pays to know what wireless Internet advertising can be and what it cannot be. Let’s keep it in perspective.

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