The Future of Wireless? Advertising, Of Course!

Opinion: Consider what "real-time information" means to a marketer whose customers possess mobile devices. And how drastically will wireless advertising cut into privacy?

Linksys asked me to talk about "the future of wireless" for its annual sales convention. I ended up talking about advertising.

Actually, its a mystery to me why the Cisco company wanted a European to talk to its sales staff in Irvine, Calif. At first, I thought it was the conspicuous spending.

You know: "Were paying him in pounds sterling, not dollars ..." And then, when I got to my stopover in New York, I decided it was to cure me of grousing about how expensive wireless broadband is in Europe (the New York Hilton offered me a days connectivity for $165 while I was there).

But one of the main points of my presentation was about the role of wireless in media.

Theres a difference—a huge difference—between the way Europeans and Americans get their news. Actually, there are lots of huge differences, but one of the biggest is the cost of distribution.

Strangely, the actual costs of sending out a monthly magazine in the United States are higher than in Europe; but because of the huge circulations of American publications, that distribution cost is a small fraction of the revenue—because of advertising. Circulations in Europe are tiny by comparison.

Wireless looks like a great way of getting news to people—not in a few weeks time but immediately. And of course, if you can hook into the Internet, costs are very low.

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What is at first a simple "cut the costs" equation suddenly becomes a rather different story once you realize that mobile devices arent anonymous. If Im selling you a widget and you look at my advertising on TV or on paper, I know almost nothing about you personally other than what group of purchasers you most probably belong to.

But if you look into my Web advert from your mobile device, I know a lot about you. I can, potentially, know exactly who you are, where you are and what retail outlets are within 500 yards of you.

Increasingly, I can link through mobile payments schemes and learn how much you have available to spend. And I can look at your browsing habits and e-mail (yes, I can!) and discover what youre interested in, right now, this minute.

Advertising with wireless ceases to be a case of: "In this socioeconomic group, there is a 3 percent chance that one of these readers will be in the market for a replacement vehicle in the next month, so lets run a car commercial."

It starts to be: "Emergency! Billy Joe is on the corner of Roosevelt and Jackson, and hes looking into a Ford dealership! Tell him about the new Chrysler!"

Next Page: Sacrificing privacy?