The Wubulous World of Wireless Advertising

Those of you with young kids probably know that “wubulous” is a Dr. Seussism — one I’ve always thought of as a combination of “wonderful,” “fabulous,” and, perhaps, “nebulous.” A fitting description for the introduction of this new column, which will focus on the emerging world of wireless advertising.

Even the casual observer will probably have noticed that few areas have gotten more attention and funding in the last year than the wireless space. Venture capital has flowed freely to this sector. Every time you turn around, there is a new publication or newsletter devoted to the industry. Yes, everyone seems to agree that wireless is going to be big, big, big.

But the future of wireless advertising? There we see wildly divergent predictions. Skeptics say that the limitations of wireless devices and the potential for abuse will doom wireless advertising to minor-player status. Enthusiasts say that wireless advertising will redefine our traditional ideas of advertising and blur the lines between content, advertising, and commerce, ultimately eclipsing online advertising spending.

So who’s running scared, and who’s blowing smoke? Is wireless advertising the latest, greatest thing since sliced bread or the next in a long line of overhyped business models?

To answer those questions, I’ve been talking with advertisers, agencies, media planners, and wireless players; I’ve been trying to get a feel for where the wireless ad market is today, where it’s going, and how fast it’s moving. And I’ve been talking with my own clients to understand how they see wireless fitting in with their marketing objectives and tactics.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been exploring:

  • What are the major categories of players in the wireless market today?

  • Who holds the power in the wireless ad market today, and how is this likely to change in the next year?
  • What is the distinction between wireless and mobile?
  • What types of companies are actively developing and testing wireless strategies?
  • What objectives are they trying to achieve by using wireless?
  • What are their options for selecting and placing wireless ads?
  • How will new technologies impact wireless advertising?
  • How do wireless ads get tracked and measured?
  • What is the role for publishers?
  • Who is actually going to sell wireless ads?
  • How are m-commerce and wireless advertising converging?

Alas, I found that the answers to these questions were anything but simple.

Perhaps the only thing that is clear from all of my discussions is that wireless advertising is so new that it is barely even in its infancy, although it’s also clear that the distinctions between advertising and commerce in this space are blurrier than in most traditional models we’ve seen.

The basic characteristics that distinguish wireless from other media, especially the Internet, create new opportunities for advertisers to reach audiences in unconventional ways. In the coming months I’ll be exploring these issues and more as this new area morphs and evolves.

What is the future of wireless advertising? I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on that question. But my bets are on big, big, big in the not-so-distant future.

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