Marketers Get Weak Signal from Users on Cell-Phone Ads

    by Mark Glaser
    January 16, 2007

    i-2586e27f12937ecce5c007f2de1a0f3d-MMA logo.jpg
    There is an interesting disconnect between the way marketers view advertising on cell phones and what average folks who use cell phones think about those same ads. Marketers, ad agencies, research firms, cell phone makers and carriers are salivating over the prospect of delivering marketing messages to people via their cell phones. But survey after survey shows that people are not quite as excited about it — in fact, most people consider it an outrage to be bothered by ads on such a personal device.

    No matter. The following quote by mobile marketing consultant J. Gerry Purdy (which ran in ClickZ) sums up the industry’s view: “Probably the most important medium for advertising in the 21st century is going to be the cell phone, not print media, not billboards. It’s just a matter of time — there are just too many of them.”

    There’s even a Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) that “strives to stimulate the growth of mobile marketing and its associated technologies.” Research firm eMarketer predicts that mobile ad spending will reach $4.7 billion by 2011, including $400 million on “multimedia ads” around mobile video, music, TV and social networking. And marketers are calling the Apple iPhone a possible killer app in boosting mobile marketing.


    “[The iPhone] is the beachhead for converging mobile devices,” Tom Burgess, CEO of mobile marketing technology company Third Screen Media, told MediaPost. “It’s a music player, video player and a phone all together. There’s no doubt that it is a step in the right direction for a more robust marketing medium.”

    But with all the excitement, breathless ad projections, and startup companies sprouting up around cell phone marketing, there’s still a stark reality, summed up by the folks at eMarketer: “To reap those big bucks, carriers and marketers must overcome some tough obstacles, not the least of which is consumers’ reluctance to accept ads on their cell phones.”

    When I asked you, dear MediaShift readers, what you thought about ads on your cell phone, you were generally dismissive of the idea. Here’s a smattering of the negative views:


    “I would be greatly opposed to any type of commercials, ads, or text messages on my cell phone that I have not requested!” — JJ

    “Advertising already follows me everywhere, from the sleeve on my coffee cup to the tunnels of the metro (not to mention the metro cars themselves…) Having advertising on my cell phone would not only be an enormous inconvenience, but would make me apt to refuse to use a product, service or company. Annoying me before I have even had a chance to interact with a company or product does not inspire consumer confidence.” — Rachael

    “My cell phone is an enormously personal device. I resent it when I get unsolicited commercial calls on it. The odds of advertising being able to catch me at just the right time and with the right offering is so small that I can’t see a need of it.” — PR guy Ged Carroll

    “No ads, no spam, just leave me alone!” — Larry

    “Get away from me.” — Tom

    In Search of Relevant Mobile Ads

    And the people responding here at MediaShift are not the only ones annoyed by the prospect of mobile ads. Forrester Research recently found that 79% of respondents in a survey were annoyed with just the idea of ads on their cell phone, and Synovate found that only 21% of people say they’re highly or somewhat interested in mobile marketing (down from 25% the year before).

    How does the industry spin such a finding as Synovate’s? The headline for ClickZ’s article was “Growing Consumer Interest in Mobile Marketing.” Uh, really? Not surprisingly that article was penned by Laura Marriott, who happens to be the executive director of the MMA. When you read all the articles touting mobile marketing and its potential, you get the idea that marketers and their ilk have a damn-the-torpedoes attitude about the inevitability of mobile marketing.

    Their thinking goes like this: People hated the idea of TV advertsing when it was first introduced. They hated the idea of newspaper advertising. They hated the idea for web advertising. Mobile advertising will happen and people will eventually accept it.

    Now there is a possible opening for acceptance of mobile ads, and that’s if the advertising is relevant, opt-in and not intrusive to the mobile phone experience. Some MediaShift readers mentioned the ways that they see ads on cell phones working for them:

    “I believe that if the ads are based on my opting in, the promotion would be relevant to my interests. I see the cell phone as an dominant force in terms of effectively broadcasting such relevant content to a huge population of users. It is a good thing!” — Craig Sorenson

    “I think that if the idea were implemented with a way to opt-out (like with the national ‘do not call’ database) that it will have some, if not widespread success.” — OmegaCode

    “On mobile web services like mobile search I would tolerate text ads so long as: They didn’t take up too much of the page; they were not affecting my efforts to see the information that I was looking for; they weren’t eBay or Amazon which 90 percent of Ad Words seem to be at the moment.” — Ged Carroll

    Perhaps what’s needed in mobile marketing are more creative efforts that won’t alienate users. Random cold calls on your cell phone won’t work. Pop-up ads won’t work, nor will unsolicited text messages from marketers. OmegaCode, for one, had a more creative idea where users would get billed less for cell phone usage for each ad they watched:

    Allow users to download the ads that they like. That sounds odd, yes, but imagine downloading the BMW short movies onto your phone, using the phone’s broadband capability without charge. Or better, the Sprint “theft deterence” commercial. Users could download and watch multiple ads and gain credits for each ad they watch. Code could be implemented to make sure that users only get credits for the ads they watch, with varying levels of credits based on the demographic information of the user, and the revenue that the ad generates.

    If there’s a clear value for people — whether that’s reduced cell phone rates or relevant ads people want — then mobile marketing has a future. But if marketers step over the line and push ads too much in this sensitive, personal medium, they will feel a strong backlash, and people will associate mobile marketers with email spammers. What do you think? Is there a way mobile marketing would work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: advertising cellphones mobile web

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