Etisalat and du plan to start selling information about their customers to advertisers, in a move they say will reduce "spam" by providing more relevant marketing messages. Both plan to offer information such as a customer's age, nationality and in some cases consumer habits. The operators were keen to play downpossible privacy concerns over such a move by saying only customers that "opt in" will have their data shared.
"We are in discussions with advertising agencies in order to utilise this for those [customers] who opt in," said Khalifa al Shamsi, the senior vice president for marketing at Etisalat. "We will not be selling databases. It will be allowing advertisers … to target specific users according to their demographics. We will never do something like this without customer consent. It will not happen without a clear opt-in process."
Mr al Shamsi said Etisalat would make money from this service, about which the operator will be making an announcement later this year. He said customers would be "rewarded" by the service because they would receive more relevant marketing messages. "It will ensure additional revenue for the telecoms industry … before the end of the year there will be a few announcements in this regard," Mr al Shamsi said. Etisalat's rival du is to sell demographic data of its customer base to advertisers, beginning next year. The operator said this would apply to its mobile phone and internet protocol television (IPTV) customers.
"We're looking at making customers' profiles available to agencies as long as the customer gives their approval," said Miltos Vidalis, the senior director for content, portals and devices in du's consumer division. "It will be for mobile advertising and IPTV advertising." Such data would involve "demographics and some kind of user behaviour", Mr Vidalis said. That information would involve a customer's age, nationality and possibly information about their viewing habits, such as whether the user is a sports fan.
"It's very valuable information to advertisers to know that you are 25 to 35, like cars and are male," said Mr Vidalis. Many consumers have complained about "spam" text message marketing in the UAE. Richard Warren, the managing director of the research and product development agency FirstPartner, said mobile phone advertising was much more effective when it was relevant to consumers. "Where advertising is relevant to people the level of acceptance is much higher," said Mr Warren, whose UK-based company also has clients in the MENA region, many of them in the telecoms sector.
He said the UAE had the makings of a "developed" market for mobile phone advertising, partly due to its high internet penetration. But Rayan Karaky, the MENA region general manager for digital operations at the communications network Publicis Groupe Media (PGM), said there had been a lot of hype about mobile advertising but not much real activity. Although PGM has worked on mobile advertising campaigns with companies including Emirates Airline and General Motors in the Middle East, there is still not enough mobile content available to make the medium attractive, Mr Karaky said.
"Mobile has been the 'next biggest thing' for the last three-four years," he said. "We can keep saying that it's the 'next big thing' but it's not until we have the content on mobile." However, the emergence of more mobile video content "could open a new dimension" in the medium, Mr Karaky added.