BARCELONA // The mobile phone will emerge as a viable advertising platform next year as more advanced handsets hit the market and mobile internet browsing goes mainstream. However, industry insiders say advertising spending is expected to remain flat as the global economy slows. Digital advertising is seen as one bright spot and likely to rise by at least 10 per cent as companies seek measurable, cost effective options to extend their reach while cutting budgets.
"Advertising on the mobile platform is still in the experimental stage," said Mark Read, the director of strategy at WPP, one of the world's largest advertising companies. "There is going to be more and more experimentation in formats, and there are still challenges. But the direction is clear." Bottlenecks to the growth of the industry such as the limited functionality of handsets, the high cost of mobile data plans and network operators restricting access to their customers were all clearing, he said. But advertisers need to work harder to build campaigns that are customised to the realities of the mobile phone, rather than switching internet advertising to a new medium.
"The early sign is that it is not at all clear that the online paradigm applies without modification into the mobile platform," said Niklas Savander, the executive vice president for services and software at Nokia. "We have run multiple pilots on different kinds of advertising models in different applications, and I would say it is too early to say what kind of models are going to fly." The limited size of a mobile screen and the more intimate nature of the devices meant customers were less tolerant of an irrelevant or poorly targeted advert, he added.
Incorporating the mobile phone into broader campaigns is more likely to get results, as many marketers are discovering. "The most successful mobile campaigns today don't stand alone," Mr Read said. "They are part of an integrated marketing effort." Companies with a large retail presence are often getting a better reaction to mobile-focused campaigns than their traditional efforts. "If we ask consumers to participate in a campaign via text message, we get a response rate of around 4 per cent, which is huge when you think that we have a few billion packs out there," said Prinz Pinakatt, the manager of interactive marketing for Europe at the Coca-Cola EU Group. "The mobile has become a fully established tool for us as an entry option."
Marketers looking to take their campaign online should build dedicated websites that are optimised for viewing on a web-enabled handset, he said. In Europe, Coca-Cola has offered to build such a site for some companies, in return for branding rights to the site. Ethan Stock, the chief executive of Zvents, an online event directory, said people were searching for an increasing amount of local information through their mobile phones. While walking the streets of a city, they search for entertainment options or where to find a certain good or service.
"This is such a big opportunity," he said, "because mobile gives you the ability to connect to these people, and to take a search all the way to its completion." Marketers would ensure such searchers not only found their product, but were given directions to the premises through mapping services and the ability to buy tickets or book an appointment instantly. "For a long time, advertisers ignored mobile because it was too complicated," Mr Stock said. "But now, we're starting to see the watershed shift that we have been waiting for."