Wireless Advertising: Uninteresting or Massively Confusing?

In my first column, I mentioned that I’ve talked with dozens of ad-related players about their perceptions of the wireless market. While a lot of small-scale testing is going on, one of the most consistent comments I heard is that advertisers are not yet clamoring for wireless media buys.

Some people therefore conclude that advertisers simply aren’t interested in wireless advertising. But as my five-year-old would say, “Duh…” Yes, most are not interested today; but the real question is, Why? Is it a fundamental lack of interest in wireless advertising, or is it a point-in-time issue?

Everything I see indicates a point-in-time issue. Think about it. Why would we expect large numbers of advertisers to be interested at this point in the game?

  • First, the low number of people who actually own Web-enabled devices means that the reachable market is miniscule. That fact alone makes the medium uninteresting for many major national advertisers that are heavily focused on reach.

  • Second, most companies are at the very early stages of figuring out how and where wireless fits in their company overall. And that’s important, because for many companies, wireless is more than just another media option — it requires a level of strategic thought regarding how wireless applications will be used overall to meet business objectives. To use an analogy from the wired Internet, how many companies began advertising online without already having a Web site up and running? Until most companies have gotten further along in their wireless strategy development — and have a functioning wireless site up and running — using wireless media for general advertising may seem premature to many advertisers.
  • Next, with the wireless carriers still in the catbird seat, very little inventory is available on the market, even for those advertisers who are ready to jump in. More on this in upcoming columns, but suffice it to say that putting together any kind of major national campaign is, at this point, close to impossible. And without sufficient inventory, agencies and media buyers have no incentive to actively push the issue.
  • Finally, the technology that will really make wireless advertising come alive — including voice-recognition systems, personalization capabilities, bots, and sophisticated deployment of location-based targeting — is either in development or in the early stages of testing and user adoption.

Hmm… Small market size, brand-new medium, new or unproven technology, little available inventory — not exactly a picture that would send the average company running to its agency to demand a wireless campaign, is it?

But stepping back from that situation for a moment, I think the interesting question is not why advertisers aren’t flocking to wireless ads. Rather, why are so many already testing the waters in what must fairly be described as less-than-favorable conditions?

Next week, I’ll take a look at where wireless advertising, even with all its well-documented limitations, is already making sense for many companies.

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