There's considerable data that shows consumers are highly ambivalent about mobile advertising. However, with approximately 230 million users in the U.S. alone and more than 2.5 billion globally, the "mobile Internet" represents a large, yet still hypothetical advertising opportunity. The equivalent of paid search (including PPCall) advertising right now has the highest probability of success, but mobile coupons are also promising.
But where does that leave brand advertisers? Putting aside mobile video pre-rolls, so-called banner blindness will likely be more prevalent in mobile, unless graphical ads can become highly targeted and/or be tied to compelling offers.
But now companies such as Mobile Posse and Acuity Mobile have developed what are being called "idle screen" ads. One way to regard these is as an alternative form of graphical advertising. Another way is as the equivalent of mobile pop-ups.
This InfoWorld piece discusses the effort:
The ads appear not when customers are using a browser, but they can pop up on the phone's idle screen any time.
These companies, such as Mobile Posse and Acuity Mobile, say they're working to ensure that the ads are so useful to customers that they won't be annoying.
Mobile Posse offers what it calls idle screen ad insertion. After downloading a small application onto a phone, users start getting advertisements that often include discount coupons on their phones.
There are numerous challenges here:
The mobile banner itself has a dubious future right now. If "idle screen" ads can be sufficiently targeted, offer deals/discounts and are opt-in there's an interesting potential opportunity for brand advertisers and others. The value proposition to consumers has to be crystal clear, however, and not remotely suggest the online pop-up -- which is roundly despised and is largely dead.
If idle screen ads can be spun as coupons or highly targeted offers, perhaps there's a future for these ads. Otherwise, they're effectively dead on arrival.
Voice search and speech services provider Nuance announced that its Voice Control application is now available for BlackBerry phones. The subscription-based Voice Control is a "one-click mobile search and messaging application" that uses the phone's GPS capabilities to minimize user input requirements.
The multi-modal application allows people to verbally ask for nearby business categories (using GPS) and see results displayed on screen, together with maps, etc. There's also a similar turn-by-turn directions capability.
Dial Directions offers some of the same functionality but without the GPS requirement (and doesn't have mulit-modality right now).
The growing list of mobile voice-search services and providers, including Goog411, 800-Free411, Tellme, 800-YellowPages, CallGenie and V-Enable reflect that voice will play a significant role in the mainstreaming of local search on mobile devices. Ultimately multi-modal applications with a voice option or front end will be the norm across applications.
According to an article in MediaPost, AdMob served its "5 billionth mobile ad" (that's on a global basis) and is now serving a billion ads per month across its partner network of mobile sites. The company's clients include marquee brands such as Starbucks, JCPenney, Atlantic Records and Coca-Cola.
Almost 50% of these impressions come from three markets: the U.S., U.K. and South Africa.
What it indicates is that the mobile Internet as an ad-distribution platform is real. However, it's not mainstream. Research from Ingenio and Harris Interactive (more for clients), conducted earlier this year among U.S. mobile users, found that a majority of consumers (70%) could not remember having seen (or heard) mobile ads within the past year.
That same research also reflects powerful consumer ambivalence about mobile advertising, suggesting that "relevant" sponsored search-style ads have the best hope (so far) of gaining consumer attention and adoption.
Every day I receive at least five e-mails purported to be from PayPal, urging me to update my account information. Given that I don't have a PayPal account, it's an easy choice to route it to my Spam filter along with alerts from the Fifth Third Bank. But the launch of PayPal Mobile appears to have given Phishers a new area of opportunity, and one that appears more insidious. With $500,000 in "Instant Prizes" as incentive, the PayPal (or faux PayPal) folks encourage recipients to "Activate PayPal Mobile Now!"
Does PayPal offer a mobile payment system? Yes...
It has a couple of flavors actually. An SMS/text based service to provide instructions for payment, donation and money transfer launched in March 2007. In mid-July, PayPal added a "portable checkout" which allows registered mobile subscribers in the UK, US and Canada to buy items from participating merchant Web sites. Examples of such merchant sites are SkyMall, DVD Planet, Moosejaw Mountaineering and ElectronicsShowplace.com.
Is the sweepstakes email from PayPal? Who knows...
But one thing is certain, payment systems security mavens regard wireless devices as the most inherently insecure pieces of transaction processing hardware in existence. "Think of the PC prior to the introduction of a security kernel and you'll understand where the smartphone is these days," I was told. "It's wide open."
This observation seemed to be validated by all the hackers who have exposed the vulnerability of passwords stored in the iPhone. Symbian, Windows Mobile, and PalmOS are just as bad.
Yet there is no question that payments initiated as text messages from mobile phones are already generating great interest and payment activity. For such activities PayPal Mobile and PayPal Checkout have competition from Obopay (already supported by Verizon Wireless) and textpayme.com. Such text-based services are relatively "secure" because they use the same payment "gateway" that other online merchants use, relying mostly on password protected access to payment instructions.
Perhaps it's a sign of early success to see that mobile payments through PayPal have sufficient critical mass to attract Phisher-folk.
ShopLocal has introduced a mobile application powered by Where (uLocate). Where/uLocate sees itself as a distribution channel and platform for third-party content providers. It has the relationship with carriers and thus can offer GPS to the third parties that would otherwise not be able to offer that capability
The ShopLocal application requires a download and costs $2.99 a month. Because the service is new and not available for all phones we haven't been able to test it. ShopLocal itself has limited expectations, recognizing the application is largely in the realm of early adopters (the fee also keeps people away). In terms of consumer behavior and reach text is much more widely used than WAP, which is more widely used than downloadable applications in turn.
That fact is what motivated Yahoo to release oneSearch for all WAP browsers rather than wait for Go to be preloaded on new handsets.
Local shopping search provider NearbyNow has had success with SMS based mobile promotions and search, which has been in the market since the holiday season. The service complements its main Internet-based service. And GPShopper has a service called Slifter, which in partnership with Sprint, offers GPS shopping and local product inventory information.
Retail and shopping is a category that will be widely used in mobile to check prices, store locations and, eventually, local inventory.
According to an online survey conducted in late June, by Harris Interactive (2,000 US adults) for Pinger, a large majority of U.S. adults believe that reading or sending email or text messages from behind the wheel is as dangerous as drunk driving and should be outlawed -- yet a majority have done it themselves.
Pinger is a service that voice-enables text messaging. The company is using the survey to promote its service.
Here are some additional top-level findings:
State legislatures are starting to address the issue, with Washintong having passed the first ban on SMS while driving. Numerous other states including CA and NY are considering a similar ban.
It's a great idea "on paper" -- so to speak -- mobile coupons, that is. They've arrived in principle but not really in practice. Internet-based coupons have yet to take off, although they're poised to do so. But mobile coupons, despite being available today, are even farther off as a mainstream marketing phenomenon. (That is, perhaps, unless they morph into SMS-based ads.)
The idea of being able to search for coupons when you're on the go is appealing to virtually everyone, however the challenge is coverage and user adoption. Eventually coupons (or some equivalent) will make their way into the mobile marketing mix but it will be a little while. Even Cellfire, the leader in mobile couponing right now, has very limited coverage in terms of the consumer offers available.
Last week, the company put out data on mobile coupon redemption for the six months ending June 30:
Top 10 Markets for Mobile Coupon Usage per Capita:
- Miami/Fort Lauderdale
- Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, CA
- Chico/Redding, CA
- Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
- Waco/Temple-Bryan, TX
- El Paso (Las Cruces), TX (NM)
- San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA
- Jonesboro, AR
- West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce, FL
- Atlanta, GA
According to Cellfire:
Not surprisingly, 68 percent of coupons redeemed were from mobile savvy shoppers between the ages of 18-34, followed by shoppers aged 35-44 with 18 percent. Food and entertainment topped the list of categories for which coupons were most frequently redeemed.
The fact that Sacramento and Chico, CA beat out the San Francisco Bay Area, shows how small the user base is right now. The model is right: opt-in offers from local merchants and national advertisers with local stores. In the near term it will mostly be about big boxes and chains. But eventually SMBs may play in the space if enabled by sites such as Zixxo and others. But for right now there's the familiar and fundamental "chicken and egg problem." In order to gain consumer adoption, the coupon/offer coverage must be there and to entice advertisers to pay attention there must be an audience. The advantage that coupons have is that they can be translated into other formats (including mobile) if the infrastructure exists to support them and prevent fraud.
As I suggested above mobile "coupons" may give way to offer-based SMS marketing in the near term not unlike the way MoVoxx (started by the founders of Infreeda) went from being a mobile coupon provider to an SMS ad agency/network.
Location-based services are making a comeback. The initial excitement about them fizzled out because neither the phones nor the data plans could deliver. What's more, the vision of a service that could push coupons to users as they passed stores and shops was a privacy nightmare, observes Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Local Mobile Search, an advisory service from Opus Research and Sterling Market Intelligence.
"It was a pipedream, and even if it would have worked in principle, it lacked the context to be more than annoying spam," Sterling says. After all, a coupon for a restaurant is pretty much meaningless unless the service can establish the mobile user is looking for a place to eat. It's an important piece of the location services puzzle that can be provided by mobile search. In Sterling's view mobile search is the ingredient that can turn location-based services into profitable value propositions.
This new breed of location-based services is bound to take off - but only if it's offered free to consumers, Sterling says. This is borne out by data from Opus and Local Mobile Search that predicts a dismal future for the paid directory service business. It reckons revenues will drop from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $1.8 billion by 2010 in the U.S. alone. At the same time the advertiser-supported model, which offers consumers free directory services, is expected to increase to a $3 billion business in 2010 from $203 million in 2006.
From the article, "Taking search to another level", Mobile Europe, August 1, 2007
I spoke yesterday with Amit Desai, co-founder and chief product officer of Dial Directions (347-328-4667), a new voice-based local mobile search service. It offers an impressive voice interface that allows users to identify where they are and a desired location and receive a text message back with turn-by-turn directions. You can also use the service to find the nearest location of a particular business (right now chains: e.g., Peet's Coffee or a specific address).
The demo I heard on the phone and in my subsequent several tests were impressive. The voice recognition and call flow was easy to use and accurate. The service is available now in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Underlying data are being provided by multiple sources and directions are from MapQuest. The service will quickly expand to other cities and add additional capabilities in the near future.
While this is being presented as a free way to receive directions the service is very clearly a local mobile search tool. As more data are added to the database it will be something that people use to find the "nearest (type of business)." Desai and I also spoke about social features that will be added to the product over time.
Beyond the quality of the speech recognition, the thing that makes this service relatively unique is that you can identify your currently location in an easy way (by intersection, address) and it effectively turns a conventional mobile phone into a GPS device.
The service is free and the business model will be advertising, but not audio adds like those on Free411 or AT&T's 800-Yellowpages. Rather they'll be text ads on the SMS messages that users receive in response to their queries. (A similar offering exists in the UK with Miva's PPText ads on the 118118 service.) Dial Directions wants to partner with existing sales channels and mobile ad networks rather than do direct sales.
Desai sees the service as a direct-to-consumer play but also a white label offering for carriers and others that want to add this functionality to enhanced directory assistance or their existing services
It's very clear that the increasing competition in voice-enabled local mobile search is going to accelerate the development of the products and feature sets being offered to consumers and that voice search on mobile devices will be the first mass-market local mobile search tool that gains broad user adoption.
Google might be wondering: "How does that Meatloaf song go?"
The search engine is seeking to penetrate and open up the walled garden that is the US wireless market. Carriers are the gatekeepers, controlling access and the devices available to consumers. In Europe the situation is quite different, allowing consumers to buy any phone and essentially use them with any operator. Google had made a very public appeal to the FCC to provide more open access to the wireless spectrum to be offered at the upcoming auction.
The company had set a number of conditions that it believes would benefit consumers and lead to more innovation in mobile. Yesterday, the FCC gave Google some -- but not all -- of what it wanted.
Google had asked for four things from the FCC:
Google got two out of those four from the FCC. The company offered qualified praise for the move on its public policy blog. The part that Google did not get was compulsory access to the network on a wholesale basis from the auction winner.
It now remains to be seen whether Google does put up some or all of the the $4.6 billion it said it would potentially bid for the spectrum if its conditions were met.