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Sep 302012

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A few weeks ago, I asked if it was possible for mobile advertising to work, noting that mobile apps today get 1% of advertising dollars, in spite of the fact that people spend as much time in moblile as the do on TVs.   At the time, I noted two main problems with mobile advertising that make effectiveness difficult.  The first is the small size of the mobile display, there just isn’t the space to tell a compelling or seductive story, or quite frankly even to set up a good tease.

The other problem is that users of mobile devices are, well, mobile.  They are moving around.   A desktop or laptop user will be sitting in one place, writing, answering email, browsing.  Their attention is focused on the screen, and it is possible to distract them.  On the other hand,  people use their mobile devices when they are out and about.  They might be checking scores while waiting in line at the supermarket, sending a tweet from a wedding, or checking email while in a meeting.  The key is that the display is not the main thing they are focused on, so enticing them is even more difficult.

Even so, there are A LOT of mobile devices out there, and there are a lot of business plans built around selling mobile ads, so some pretty smart people are working on the problem.

Let’s take a look at some of them:


According to Mobile Marketer,   Verizon wants retailers to use mobile, and use the information collected about the customer to provide enhanced service to customers.

 “I think mobile is going to save retail,” Ash Evans, director of corporate strategy at Verizon. “The notion that we can help a consumer who is walking past a store and engage them with information that is helpful to them via mobile is amazing.

An intriguing idea, but the article was amazingly light on details, and the idea of my mobile buzzing me every time I walk by a store is a little creepy.  One of the few specifics was not based on advertising at all, but rather an app to improve customer service

Neiman Marcus is one retailer that is addressing this with an app that enables people in the store to interact with a store associate and also enables store associates to recognize when a particular customer that they know comes into the store.

Most of the article focused on best practices when collecting data, and the dangers of sharing  Personally Identifiable Information (PII) between providers.

American Express

Amex has announced a two pronged approach to mobile.  The first has to do with Mobile ads run by and for American Express.   For the first part, they have teamed up with Zumobi  to…

 shakeup the mobile ad norm with their mobile campaign which is part of their overall Membership Effect Campaign that launched earlier this year.

The campaign, which is being officially launched today, will create rich experiences for smartphone users personalized to their interests and spending habits plus combine video, user generated content, and social media on smartphones. The campaign will also create a tailored timeline of images customized to each user.  Based on responses to a set of interactive prompts in the experience, users can also create a personalized panorama that is tailored to their interests in shopping, dining, electronics or travel.

OK – but so far, the ads have only run on TV, and while amusing (they star Aziz Ansari) I don’t see anything new or really innovative  about them.  Nor do we see much in the article about how the ads will be delivered on mobile devices.

What is new is what they are advertising.   Basically, they want you to sync your American Express card with your twitter account, then they (or Amex merchants will send you tweets that contain a hashtag starting #Amex.  If you retweet,  and then buy the product using your Amex card, you will get a refund on your statement.  They don’t talk about how much, and my guess is that it will be pretty small,  1-3% leval.   The video explains


For merchants, it is a chance to use their customers to make their ads go viral.  If that works, it is a pretty small price.


Facebook is working on location based advertising.

 “Phones can be location-specific so you can start to imagine what the product evolution might look like over time, particularly for retailers,” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve had offers being tested over the last couple of months.”

One way the ads would be delivered would be in a mobile only newstream.  Their plan is to combine the data they have about users with real time locations to try to present users with an offer right when they are about to buy.   Once again, the issue is using the data without creeping users out.  It is (at least) a delicate balance.

Where does this leave us?

It is always shaky to try to predict the future, but I think a trend is becoming apparent.  The old model of advertising where a content publisher sells advertising that is interspersed with content does not translate well to mobile.   Rather, delivering messages via mobile devices will require new methods ranging from mobile provider, to social networks, with other delivery methods coming in the future.

Privacy issues are huge and need to be addressed, and at some point, someone is going to have to prove the effectiveness of these new ads.


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