Latest London thing: Cell phone ads
Visuals that can be downloaded onto screens
October 27, 2005
The very idea of advertising to cell phones causes a bit of a stir here in Britain. While some advertisers have done it, the act of bombarding cell phone users with advertising on this most personal of communications tools is generally considered a bit risky.
The concern? The ads might annoy customers.
Now Britain’s largest 3G network 3, which is owned by Hutchison Whampoa and has 3.2 million subscribers, is challenging that perception as the first mobile phone company in Britain to run video ads on its network.
The response has been good, with one ad achieving 160,000 downloads. So now 3 plans to open up more opportunities for advertising on its 3G network by appointing a mobile media selling agency.
That will be the first time in Britain that a mobile operator has appointed someone to be out there actively selling the space, says Rachel Channing, a spokesperson for 3.
In the U.S. this is an area of advertising that has yet to be exploited. It’s a pretty nascent market here, but it is evolving rapidly,” says Gene Keenan, director of mobile services at Freestyle Interactive, a digital agency in San Francisco.
In Britain, 3 has run two ads so far, both in the last few months. Here’s how it works: The network has something similar to a portal home page that customers view on their mobile phones to find out the latest available content on the site. Also on this page is a plug for the ad, instructing customers to click through to download it.
The ads run by 3 so far included a trailer for the movie It’s All Gone Pete Tong and an iPod ad with a free wallpaper download.
Both advertisers paid upfront for the ad to stay on the server until either there had been a specified number of downloads or a certain length of time had elapsed. Both ads managed to top out the downloads criteria first.
The iPod ad reached its goal of 160,000 downloads within just a week. The movie trailer was downloaded 100,000 times, even though it was only advertised on 3’s portal for two hours a day.
The first reaction that people have to the idea is, ˜Why would people want that?’ But actually it enhances the customer experience, and often the ad gives them something free, a wallpaper or ring tone, says Channing. She explains that both ads were so-called pull ads, meaning the customer opts to download them, but she says the option of targeting customers by sending them a message remains open.
Indeed, the company plans to continue offering advertisers the opportunity to do one-off downloadable ads, but 3 also intends to expand the range of advertising opportunities. One option is to build a mobile TV station to broadcast the ads. There’s also the potential to send ads to certain target audiences, and 3 believes that is one of the great potential advantages of cell phone advertising.
Unlike TV, where you are putting up ads and you are unsure who is watching at what time, we know exactly who is downloading things and what they are downloading. That lends itself to a more targeted message, says Channing.
The network believes that the advantage of this sort of advertising is that it has both a direct channel to the customer and, importantly, a return path.
But some in London’s adland are not yet convinced that that the public will abide phone ads, and one of them is Danny Donovan, deputy managing director at Initiative in London. He thinks it must be approached cautiously.
The technological development which is now allowing for richer contact with the consumers is exciting, but the overriding principals are the same for audio visual as they are for the humble SMS, says Donovan. Mobile communications should be permission-based, relevant, timely and targeted.
Donovan believes that it is difficult to create an opt-in model that works. Success in doing so would depend on finding ever-cleverer ways to entice the right people to opt in.
In the U.S. at Verizon Wireless, which has not yet waded into these waters, a spokesperson agrees that at this stage there is concern over how customers would react. We have approached the marketplace from a cautious perspective, he says.
Meanwhile at global company MobiTV, they are looking into this type of ad, which Paul Scanlan, chief operating officer and co-founder, says has not yet been featured on MobiTV.
But what interested Scanlan is the potential to take the download idea one step further. He explains a downloadable trailer, for example, could be created so the consumer would see the trailer and find out which nearby cinema was showing the film and the time of the next showing.
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