Wireless Is Its Own Animal

A lot of agencies are terrific at delivering Web solutions, but when a client inquires into whether they should be doing something on wireless platforms, those same agencies often don’t know enough to come up with compelling ideas or execute anything that can assist their clients achieve their business objectives.

The reason is simple: Wireless is its own animal; and while wireless media tend to resemble the Web fairly closely, there are quite a few differences that set wireless apart from Web and interactive advertising. To adequately explore opportunities in wireless, media planners need to be sensitive to these differences and understand how they affect consumers’ reactions to a wireless program.

To explore these differences, we first need to talk about the term “wireless” and what it means. To me, it refers to mobile applications that communicate in real time. So, in my mind, unwired personal digital assistant (PDA) applications such as Vindigo and AvantGo fall into a different class of advertising opportunities — they require synching for two-way communication.

Wireless application protocol (WAP) and short message service (SMS) fall under what I consider to be “wireless,” as do Web clipping applications and such. Penetration of devices that make use of Web clipping is still fairly low, however. To achieve any meaningful U.S. penetration with a wireless program, I’d stick to WAP and SMS.

Of the U.S. consumers who utilize WAP and SMS, most do so over their mobile phones. Regrettably, the U.S. wireless market is extremely fragmented with regard to carriers and mobile networks, so standards for SMS are practically nonexistent. For the most part, anyone wishing to send an SMS message from a wireless phone can send only to other phones on the same network. Thus, a VoiceStream customer cannot send a message directly to someone on the AT&T Wireless network. For these two networks to communicate, messages must be sent through a gateway.

A group communications application such as Upoc must build a gateway application to facilitate SMS communication between groups of users on different systems. That’s why Upoc asks you at signup to declare your wireless provider. Messages sent through Upoc must be routed to different wireless providers through Upoc’s back-end application.

Because SMS messages typically have a limit of 160 characters, many marketers are asking, “How might I communicate anything of value to my consumers using this platform?” Additionally, mobile-phone users have to pay for messaging, so marketers also are grappling with the permission question and wondering whether broadcast messages are appropriate and whether they might produce a negative brand experience.

Yes, permission is a necessity when you’re talking about pushing messages to people over bandwidth for which they’re paying a fee. A retail chain can broadcast notices of sales and the geographic locations of their stores, but they do need to know with a high degree of certainty whether the recipients are interested in receiving such information.

Or perhaps the solution doesn’t make use of the push model. One of the more interesting mobile applications I’ve seen is big in Europe but is only now being considered for a launch in the United States. MobileMetrics allows users who see offline ads while they’re out and about to send messages via their mobile phones to a sort of auto-responder, which forwards additional information about the product advertised to the respondent’s email box or phone. With the consumer initiating the dialogue, the permission question becomes less critical.

Wireless certainly is a sticky arena. The issues of permission, cost of bandwidth, and privacy affect the consumer more here than they do with the Web, and marketers need to be considerate to avoid a negative reaction to the brand advertised.

While a model that mirrors that of the Web may not yet work in the United States, there are other models that do work. I’d encourage all agency planners to investigate these options as soon as they can. After all, uncluttered advertising environments are hard to come by these days. Such a medium could open up new possibilities for clients.

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