Weighing the Tolerance for Mobile Phone Marketing

Experts posit that consumers will tolerate advertisers' attempts if their messages are entertaining and relevant.

SAN FRANCISCO—Lets face it: Whenever theres an opportunity for an advertiser to reach an audience, whether its through a conventional TV commercial, spam e-mail, or through a logo on a golfers cap, expect to see messages sent.

Cell phone networks are not be left out. With more than 200 million people now using mobile phones each day (55 million of them under age 20) in the U.S., advertisers are keen to use this channel to reach all those eyes.

The question is: How does one send branding and marketing messages successfully to cell phone users, without raising their ire?

"It all depends on the message, and whether its relevant," said Stephen Oman, program director of ChangingWorlds,, a Dublin, Ireland-based company that makes software that personalizes menus on mobile phones based on usage. "If its something you personally are interested in, then you may respond. If its not, its just deleted, and you may become irritated by it.

"Marketing is part of everyday life," Oman said. "We carry it around with us all day long. Were used to it."

Oman spoke as part of a panel discussion on mobile phone marketing and advertising, held Monday at the iHollywood Mobile Entertainment Summit at the Masonic Auditorium here.

"Who here would like to receive a commercial on their phone?" asked panel moderator Alice Cuneo, West Coast editor of Advertising Age. Nobody in the audience raised their hand. "Who here would like to receive something entertaining and funny on their phone?" she followed. Many people raised their hands.

"So there it is. We want to be entertained, constantly. It depends on the creative," said panelist Jack Philbin, co-founder and president of Vibes Media.

"Mobile (phone) marketing is a pull medium, as opposed to a push medium, in that it can pull a call to action and create a dialog—unlike radio or TV, which is one-way and tries to push you into an action," Philbin said.

Advertisers need to understand the nature of the mobile phone market, panelists agreed. "Marketing via mobile phone will work if it engages the user and if it creates a two-way conversation that is of interest to the user," said panelist Hartmut Neven, founder and CEO of Neven Vision.

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Mobile phone marketing has only been around for two or three years, so there arent many examples of successful campaigns, Cuneo said. But several panelists did point out some examples of good branding/marketing via mobile phones, including:

  • a Pontiac campaign in which camera phone users were asked to take a picture of a Pontiac and e-mail it to the company to enter a drawing to win a car (it elicited 250,000 responses);
  • PlayStation 2 users were asked to message their fathers on Fathers Day (400,000 responses);
  • various kinds of product placements (such as Coca-Cola, BMW autos, etc.) in mobile phone games.

"Those work wonderfully well, because they add to the realism of the game, and kids love that," said panelist Matthew Feldman, CEO of Versaly Entertainment.

Maria Mandel, of Ogilvy Interactive, said that she thought "search on mobile phones will take off as an advertising engine" in the next few years, and that this will bring a lot of new opportunities for advertisers.

"Right now, this reminds me of when the Internet was just ready to take off," Mandel said. "At the moment, its kind of a free-for-all. The business models arent quite worked out yet. It will evolve and take some time, but it will be an important space."

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...