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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.

Advertisers to vie for that two square inch space on your mobile handset


Dr L Venkata Subramaniam, Research Staff Member, IBM India Research Lab

The mobile advertising space has seen a lot of activity in the recent past and this space is likely to hot up in the near future. As of March 2007, there were 165 million mobile phone users in India. The worldwide numbers stood at close to 2.2 billion mobile phone users. In India, the current yearly ad spends on mobile phones stand at just $5 million, while worldwide it is $1.2 billion. But this is a segment where the ad spend growth rates are expected to be in excess of 500 pr cent a year!

So far the bulk of the ad spends have been in outbound telesales calls and the pushing of SMS and MMS ads to users. But research indicates that there is a lot of resistance to such advertising from consumers and in some countries like India the judiciary has stepped in to ban such ads as they are perceived to be intrusive.

On the other hand, advertisers perceive that the handset as a very intimate way of making contact with consumers and are looking at ways to penetrate this medium. A recent survey found that young Britons would rather give up sex than live without their mobile phones. Whether this is true in India or not, advertisers know the mobile phone is always with the consumer and that it is the best way to reach out to her. There is realisation that with so much clutter in other mediums like TV, newspapers, etc., the mobile phone offers an intimate, no-clutter, mass medium for advertisers. In India, the number of mobile sets is much, much larger than the number of television sets, which stands at 80 million today. By the year-end the total number of mobile connections is likely to cross 200 million, which is larger than the total readership of the print media.

So, how are the advertisers trying to exploit this medium and reach out to consumers? First, what is it that consumers want? Research shows that consumers generally accept advertisements on their mobile phone in return for 'free' media and applications on their handsets. So far the mobile handset has predominantly been used only for talking and sending SMS. Now that is changing with a lot of multimedia rich phones available at a reasonable price in the market. Users now also want information, applications and rich media on their phones. A lot of players are realising this need and stepping in to provide this to the consumers.

Currently, there is not much information one can get on the mobile phone. Browsing on the small mobile screen is such a hassle. New ways of providing useful information on the mobile phone are needed. One of those stepping in to fill this void is Google, which wants to provide its famous search engine, email and interactive maps loaded on the phone to tap this medium for ads. Its CEO, Eric Schmidt, believes that mobile phone adverts are "twice as profitable or more than non-mobile phone ads because they are more personal". Scott Berg, the Worldwide Media Director of Hewlett Packard, believes search term based advertising is the way forward as it allows the consumers to opt for rather than be pushed with irrelevant ads. Just like on the Internet, search term based advertising can be big on the mobile phone if effective ways of presenting useful information on the small mobile screen are found.

The premise of application providers is that users will get cool and useful applications for free on their handsets, which will be paid for by advertising. This suits both the consumer and the advertiser. CellSerf.com has developed the next generation messaging service that elevates the user experience beyond text to take full advantage of the mobile phones multimedia capability. CellSerf is a Value Added Service offering voice, video, picture and text SMS and voice and video email and instant messaging to the users for free. CellSerf.com partners with media companies to deliver ads to CellSerf messaging service users.

Rich media content is one space that has attracted the maximum players so far. STAR Plus Mobile, Indiatimes, Airtel Live, and many other sites offer movie clippings, mobisodes, wallpapers, ringtones, games, etc. The content at these sites is either charged per download or if it is free then it comes along with advertising. ZestADZ from mobile-worx, for example, embeds ads within WAP pages, mobile applications, mobile games, mobile content decks and SMS messages. UK-based Affle sends ads along with SMS messages by using part of the screen for advertising. This way the consumer does not view the ad as an intrusion but instead finds them useful as they are personalised based on the consumer’s interests. The personalisation is based on natural language processing of the content of the messages exchanged by the consumer.

Only certain types of mobile content are going to attract consumers and whatever attracts the consumers is in turn going to attract advertisers. Advertisers are waiting for applications which will turn the mobile phone into a utility for the consumers. When this happens – likely to be very soon – the consumer will benefit from the useful applications and the advertisers will benefit by finally being able to target the consumer in a positive way on something as personal as her mobile phone.

(The author is Research Staff Member at IBM India Research Lab. He works with the unstructured Information Analysis Group as well as teaches at IIT Delhi whenever possible.)

 
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