Over-hyped and Over Here

Simon Mansell, Managing Director of digital agency TBG London, questions whether mobile advertising is delivering on its promises

Back in 2001, European phone operators found themselves out of pocket having signed-up to 3G networks, considered to be the latest in mobile phone technology. Previous mobile advertising channels, such as the text message, were fast becoming yesterdays news. Creative advertising in the form of visual and audio was thought to be the future. European industry leaders expected innovations in Japan to reach Europe within three years. Some industry experts even went as far to say that mobile advertising will become more important than TV.
The BBC recently published an article questioning whether ad-funded digital downloads can save the music industry. Later this year, mobile phone users in Australia will be able to download music to their handsets for free. In return, consumers will be asked to click on interactive adverts. But will this work? Are mobile phones as an advertising medium really the Promised Land? In November last year, ABI Research predicted that by the end of 2006, advertising on mobile handsets will generate global revenues of $1.9bn but is this a valid statistic?
According to independent industry watchers, this phenomenon simply hasnt come to fruition and no one seems to know when its due to take place. As recently as May, this year, the industry spoke of mobile advertising really taking off and being the future. Werent they talking about mobile advertising being the future back in 2006? Or was that 2001? 

Technological progression
Technological progression has certainly resulted in some great advertising opportunities over the last couple of years, specifically for the internet. Take Google; it covers a vast range of topics and is user-friendly. Its fast and the answer appears at the click of a button. The key here though is simplicity. If you look at mobile advertising, it is the user interface that poses the biggest problem. Trying to find what you need through the menu maze is a painful process, especially considering how long it can take to download a typical page. There are thousands of different handsets and there is no standard format.  Any campaign will need to be tailored and targeted on a more or less individual basis which even the punchiest of budgets wont account for.
Okay, yes, the arrival of new phones such as the Apple i-phone will potentially change this. It has a bigger screen to view advertisements on and claims to have created a mobile phone that can display a web page in its entirety rather than a basic page designed for a tiny mobile screen. Until there is mainstream adoption of this advanced technology, I would suggest that mobile advertising will not deliver the ROI that can be found with other mediums such as the internet.
Mobile internet has the potential to reach a target audience anytime, anywhere and it is not something that should be ruled out. Linking advertising to content is a good idea. In fact mobile advertising on the whole is a great idea. Its just not there yet. Technology developers need to raise their game and marketers need to be realistic about the current potential. Mobile phones are highly personal until the delivery is as such, it might be best to focus budget elsewhere.

This article first appeared in an IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) newsletter.