Archive for December, 2007

mobilestance 2007 year in reviewThe slow news week after Christmas is notorious for the oft-derided “year in X” reports, but rather than take time exploring the value of such “Remembrance(s) of Things (less than a year) Past,” would like to take the time to indulge in our own year end recap of the most notable US Mobile Marketing developments in 2007 (and yes, the illustration on the left depicts “Old Man 2007” knowingly handing an iPhone to “Baby New Year 2008”).

And what a year 2007 has been. Between the flurry of VC and M&A activity, the reality of a declining global ringtone market and the re-orgs that followed, the explosion of ad supported business models, growth in consumer use of key mobile data services, notable marketplace exits, divestitures and bankruptcies, new entrants in the wireless space (yes, I’m talking about Apple here), and the aggressive moves on the part of the internet portals (most notably Google, but also Yahoo and even AOL and IAC), 2007 may yet be remembered as the year mobile finally “happened” -much to the delight of the Business 2.0 crowd.

After reviewing the list please take a second and weigh in on what you feel was the most important Mobile Marketing event of ’07 by participating in the poll at the end of the piece. Also, since 2007 was such a busy year no doubt there’s plenty more that could be added to this list… that said feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add some additional insight or if you feel something crucial has been overlooked.

Thanks much… and now without further delay, proudly presents “The 2007 US Mobile Marketing Game Changers.”

  1. Google Steps it up. Not content to merely sit on the sidelines and play by the rules set forth by the US carriers, the search giant spent much of 2007 re-writing the rules of the US wireless industry. With their conspicuous “open access” lobbying effort, leadership in the Open Handset Alliance, the launch of their open Android platform, and their plans to enter the upcoming 700 MHz US wireless spectrum auction has a legitimate player, Google has stirred the 2007 US wireless pot like no other single corporate entity. While it remains to be seen as what will ultimately come of its aggressive moves in the space (although it seems Google has single-handily forced the biggest hole to date in Verizon’s vaunted walled garden) , it is clear that Google is determined to usher in a far more flexible (read: marketer-friendly) US wireless marketplace… a market that will likely be a boon to innovative third party mobile application developers, hybridized business models, and – most importantly – accelerate consumer adoption of “beyond voice” mobile services.
  2. The Rise of MMS. 2007 was the year that US consumers finally got behind MMS in large numbers, exiting news for marketers not satisfied with the simple Joys of Text. In November of 2007 the MMA reported 33% of all US mobile phone users reporting monthly use of “Picture and/or Video Messaging” – that’s up dramatically from a paltry 16% in 2006. In the younger demographic segments the numbers are even more attractive, with monthly usage peaking in the 18-24 year old group at an astounding 55%. So what does this mean? Bottom line, now that MMS has reached critical mass in the US marketers are free to (finally) capitalize on the expanded interactive and multimedia prowess of the enhanced messaging channel. The possibilities are endless… everything from moblogging, MMS-based couponing, photo contests, video alerts, pattern recognition, html email-type CRM communications and so much more. Sure, there’s nothing actually new with all of these tactics… but now we’re talking about the difference between MMS-based marketing campaigns with real ROI back to the brands, versus the eternally frustrating”test campaigns” of earlier years.
  3. Enter the iPhone. So much has has already been written on the sleek Apple device that it’s become extremely difficult to assess its actual impact. Never mind the recent eye-popping stats released on the iPhone’s disproportionate share of the overall browsing universe, or recent efforts (while fascinating and seemingly quite worthwhile) by marketers to leverage the device to deliver hypertargeted messaging to the forward-leaning, early-adopting, free-with-the-dollars demographic. No, the real impact of the device lies in it serving as a “showroom model” for the full potential of the mobile marketing channel. An independently sold (from the carriers, mind you) Wi-Fi/GSM hybrid with a beautiful touch screen, snappy web browser (snail-like AT&T EDGE network speeds notwithstanding), usable video, music and photo management options… and coming in February, a public SDK for the development of third party applications and a (rumored) flash plug-in for the device’s browser – a first for the “mobile” web (and hey just because it’s the holidays let’s not get into a debate on what is or is not actually the “mobile” web – for now let’s just go with it). It’s amazing how quickly the standard for what is “possible” in mobile has been raised since the release of the iPhone less than six months ago – and how what once passed for cutting edge has so rapidly become not simply dated, but altogether irrelevant. More than any other event in the mobile marketing industry’s short history, the entrance of the iPhone has fueled a frenzy of interest in the space – both from brands and agencies alike. The motivational equivalent of the ’69 moon landing… with all the junior rocket scientists that followed.
  4. Mobile Advertising Comes of Age. After a few years of luring in the shadows of the mobile marketing industry, the mobile advertising market became incredibly hot in 2007, punctuated by major acquisitions by leading interactive and mobile firms, as well as a dizzying array of venture-fueled deals in the space. The two leaders in the nascent mobile advertising industry, Third Screen Media and Enpocket were promptly acquired by AOL and Nokia, respectively – while Microsoft, once again outmaneuvered in the interactive ad firm acquisitions game, was forced to settle on European Mobile Ad Firm Screen Tonic. The remaining independent mobile ad firms were also firing on all cylinders, with Amobee, Millennial Media, AdMob, Greystripe, and Quattro Wireless all expanding on the heels of fresh investment capital raised in ’07. Newspaper giant Gannett made a major investment in SMS-based ad firm 4INFO, while Google and Yahoo played a bit of small ball (we can gut Google a little slack here… they’ve been busy rewriting the rulebook for much of the rest of the mobile industry after all). The former taking the much anticipated step of expanding AdSense into the “mobile web,” while Yahoo! announced mobile publisher services and plans to integrate mobile inventory into their Panama ad platform. As for the internet display advertising giants, DoubleClick (soon to be Google) launched their publisher platform, while aQuantitative’s Accipiter Unit (now owned by Microsoft) tied up with NYC-based MoPhap to bring mobile capabilities to their publisher-side interactive ad serving platform. Add daily press releases by major web publishers bringing mobile inventory online, and I think you get this picture: 2007 was the year that nearly everybody in the space simply had to have a mobile adverting play. Sure, there was a bit of herd mentality going on, and no doubt we’re in for… shall we say, a bit of a “correction” in the coming years (this kind of activity surely cannot be sustained indefinitely) – but regardless, the business and technological systems are now in place for brands to reach out and communicate directly with consumers via the mobile handset. Keep in mind this is very different than previous (primarily SMS-based) mobile marketing activity that simply leveraged mobile as a direct response channel activating other forms of media such as television, print and radio (as so eloquently described by Jeff Minsky of OMD in a then accurate but increasingly outdated assessment of the channel – sorry Jeff, but I couldn’t take that one lying down!). Using mobile as a broadcast-type media may be a bit controversial to some, but as long as there remains checks and balances with regard to consumer privacy (yes, the carriers seem to be pulling their weight here, although some needed to be prodded a bit on the subject) an effective system of reaching consumers via their mobile devices should flourish in the months, years and decades to come.


Reader Poll – 2007 Mobile Marketing Game Changers


Zumobi’s (formerly Zenzui) much anticipated launch of their widget-based mobile content application was announced yesterday (beta version). The then Zenzui was spun off of from Microsoft in March of this year, and has been busy attracting third party content developers, such as Flickr and MTVN to provide content to its application ever since.

The application features a unique user interface, with content widgets are arranged in “tiles” so that users can “zoom” in and out of content areas by using the familiar “9 up” arrangement. Reviews of the application have been mixed, in that the interface has been viewed by many as slick, but ultimately overly complex. The company anticipates a hybrid pay-for-distribution (a la cable television) / ad supported business model, although I have my doubts that the application will reach the critical mass needed to attract major advertising dollars.

A few months ago I was asked to draft a POV on the business prospects on the application. Below are some excerpts from this report that (should be) OK to share publicly:

  • While on its face the ZenZui application seems to offer an elegant mobile browsing-like experience, it is faces many severe challenges from both a product and business-model perspective that would seriously put into question the firm’s prospects for success (both in the short and long term).
  • ZenZui’s decision to target “Heavy (mobile) Users” is likely born out of necessity, and one should not assume that the ZenZui product will follow the usual technology-adoption curves. Several key factors render ZenZui exclusively a “Heavy User”-only product in both the short and mid term. Optimistically, one would need to look out beyond 2010 before the product’s scale would appeal to even the least risk-averse national brands.
  • As of today the application is only available on Windows Mobile devices (<2% of current handset market). Unspecified plans to expand to J2ME devices (roughly 60% of handset market) and BREW (roughly 25% of handset market) would do much to alleviate this, but lack of any (even approximated) release dates in either of theses two environments leads one to assume they are very far from even an alpha launch (update: the J2ME version has been slated for release in “2Q 2008.Not exactly a hard release date).
  • Also somewhat surprising was that fact that Palm was specifically identified as an unsupported format (with no development plans), despite the popularity of the platform among Zenzui’s identified “heavy (mobile)-using” consumer target.
  • Without regard to specific memory requirements, the main challenge from a handset resource allocation perspective is that in order to function properly the ZenZui application would need to be “always on” (running in the background) on the end user’s device. It is well-known among mobile developers that multithreading on a mobile device is fraught with challenges, and that other than the most expensive Windows Mobile, Apple and Blackberry handsets, other (more common) handsets would likely suffer severe performance issues if the ZenZui application were “always on.” In the short term this issue would seem to reinforce ZenZui’s decision to target “heavy (mobile) users,” as they would likely be the only ones with handsets that could support the application, regardless of development environment (Windows mobile, J2ME or BREW). This limitation could be overcome over the long term once handsets “caught up” to this requirement (an unlikely scenario in the next few years due to the 18-24 month handset replacement cycle).
  • ZenZui’s non-standard coding environment assumes that developers will be willing to learn a new programming language in both a new / untested medium (mobile) and an application space that has yet to reach any legitimate level of consumer acceptance (ZenZui). As it is, brands and digital publishers are just beginning to embrace the need for “mobile-dedicated” sites in general, and when they do so are overwhelmingly choosing to code in resource-saving standard XML, or parse their standard web pages through a web-to-mobile “auto rendering engines,” which essentially remove page images and parse the (online) page into a standard mobile style sheets on the fly.
  • Numerous high-profile research studies relating to consumer adoption of mobile data products and services identify price sensitivity as the top barrier to adoption. Other than the severe handset requirements detailed above, Zenzui’s other major price-related barrier to consumer adoption is the requirement that, due to the Zenzui application’s need to refresh its (local) content over-the-air via the carrier data networks, the user must subscribe to an unlimited (“all you can eat”) mobile data plan. As of 3Q 2007 the majority of wireless subscribers have balked at unlimited data plans, which (notable AT&T iPhone bundled voice/data rate aside) can cost consumers a hefty $15 to $30 per month.
  • By pursuing a pay-for-distribution / advertising revenue-share hybrid business model, ZenZui seems to be following a model highly similar to that employed by the Cable Television Industry (Cable System Operator model). While clearly brands are comfortable “paying for placement” (even in the advertainment space), most digital content providers are not. High profile digital publishers will likely balk at paying a CPM and/or CPC on use of their content (on the contrary, many content brands would insist on payment for allowing Zenzui to gain distribution on the back of their content and brand equity). In the short term ZenZui has circumvented this issue by giving their product away to their content providers, but over the long term this will likely become a barrier for many premium content brands.

You can watch the Zumobi youtube promo video here:


The IAB (UK), in conjunction with the MMA, has published a fairly informative guide to mobile advertising in the British Isles, inclusive of a background information, marketplace learnings, case studies, and a survey of 41 agencies, advertisers and publishers on the subject of “if the internet advertising industry is ready to step into mobile.”

The section on background and marketplace learnings covers most of the basics but overall is fairly standard fare. The report points out the similarities and differences between traditional internet advertising and its mobile cousin, noting that the differences are mainly tactical (less screen real estate for advertising and smaller file sizes for mobile) before dropping a few choice nuggets of info on the reader:

  • Pricing. “The majority of on-portal ads sell for a £10 – £20 [CPM, ROS]… or 5p – 25p [CPC].”
  • Campaign Performance. “Click through rates range from 0.5% (off-portal site) up to 4% (on portal), considerably higher (sometimes 15 times) than the equivalent for traditional internet sites.”
  • Inventory. “The total UK inventory of page impressions is estimated at one billion page impressions per month (October 2007) but is growing at 9% month-on-month and is expected to reach over five billion by the end of 2008.”

The industry survey positioned near the end of the report reveals little of note, other than (as expected) opinions range wildly depending on one’s occupation (i.e. agency, publisher or advertiser, etc).

Myspace launched a free, ad-supported mobile website today (, this according to both moconews and MobiAd. From what I understand the site soft-launched a few months ago, so this new announcement must be the official “hard” launch, although the site still says “beta” in masthead (the Google affect, no doubt). The move comes after the launch of the subscription-based myspace mobile J2ME client on AT&T and Helio about a year ago.

From a user experience perspective, the site works well and is quite snappy in my testing on a Verizon Blackberry 8830. That said, the Ford Focus ad displayed was not optimized for my handset. It could be that the 8830 was not recognized by the ad server and therefore defaulted to the 215 x 34 ad size (instead of the 305 x 64 that should have been served), although it’s far more likely that myspace’s mobile ad server is simply not optimizing ad delivery based on the device, as the 8830 is a highly popular handset and would therefore be included in any decent device library, including WURFL. Additionally, after many page refreshes the Ford ad is the only unit shown, indicating that either the site doesn’t permit advertiser session / frequency capping, or that this campaign simply isn’t using it (perhaps Ford is the only advertiser on myspace mobile at this time?).

Fox Interactive Media’s mobile partner on the advertising-side is Boston Baltimore-based Millennial Media, who is handling both the ad serving for myspace mobile (as well as most other FIM mobile sites) via their MYDAS server, as well as repping the inventory directly to advertisers and agencies. Currently they are serving banners basically an ROS basis, although I am told plans are in the works to bring advanced demographic, geographic and psychographic targeting online “in the coming year” – all based on user registration data. While advanced targeting is attractive from a planning / efficiency standpoint, in my view ad targeting becomes less relevant that overall reach (at least until the mobile web’s scale reaches critical mass)… and in myspace’s case, what I’d really like to see from them is a targeting option that can restrict an ad rotation to pages that do not contain user generated content, for obvious reasons.

Starting December 20th, print ads for Wine Enthusiast running in the WSJ will incorporate SnapTell’s “Snap.Send.Get” technology, reports Mobile Marketer.

The promotional mechanic is very simple and works as follows: Readers “snapping a picture” with their mobile phone and sending it to SnapTell (presumably via email or MMS) will “receive 15 percent off of any purchase on” It is not clear how the discount offer will be returned to consumers, but it is likely to be delivered via SMS in the form of a promo code to be redeemed on the Wine Enthusiast website.

If all of this is sounding at all familiar, it should. Boston-based Mobot, one of the first companies to activate the mobile pattern recognition space in the US, has been powering similar campaigns for Jane Magazine, Vibe and Elle Girl since 2005. What makes the WSJ SnapTell campaign significant is that (to my knowledge) this is the first MMS-based campaign to launch in the US targeted to an audience over 35 years of age. Could it be that recent studies indicating the rising popularity of MMS in the US are to be believed?

One of the reasons that SnapTell’s solution is attractive to marketers is that consumers can engage with these campaigns without first having to download a separate mobile application to transcode and/or identify the pattern to be recognized. The idea behind both Mobot and SnapTell is that all a consumer has to do is send an MMS or email an image to their servers to engage with a campaign; all images / patterns are identified on the server-side. The upside to this approach is that most handsets now have cameras integrated into the device, greatly increasing the potental reach of the tactic.

On the flipside, decoding the image on the server inherently builds lag time into the experience, and response times can be further impacted by message delays on the carrier side. The QR code mechanic, where the image (in this case a one or two dimensional barcode) is decoded on the handset rather than on the server, has been shown to greatly reduce these latencies, providing a much better user experience. However, since most handsets do not (yet) come with reloaded barcode readers (and trying to get consumers to download applications on their own is a fairly challenging task to say the least), the impact of domestic QR campaigns remains limited to an extremely small install-base.

msn mobile jaguar adMicrosoft has opened up advertising inventory in the US on its MSN Mobile homepage (, Reuters reported today. This follows similar moves by Microsoft in Belgium, France, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom. Currently the MSN’s homepage is rotating banners from Bank of America, Paramount Pictures and Jaguar in an above-the-fold position, just below the search window.

In my testing of the new, ad-enabled MSN Mobile home page, I found that Microsoft seemed to be serving ads from an internal ad server, and is clearly not optimizing the ad size for all handsets, as MSN served the same 215 X 34 ad unit for both my Blackberry 8830 (Verizon), Samsung A717 (AT&T) and Samsung A900 (Sprint)… while a broken image was served to a Motorola V3T operating on T-Mobile (perhaps due to the fact that the handset screen width is smaller than 215 pixels!). Also, it seems that MSN is unfortunately not supporting “Text Under” links below the banner, which have been shown to significantly increase click-thru by adding an additional “clickable” call-to-action.

In addition to serving the mobile ads internally, MSN appears to also be (in some cases) hosting the post-click advertiser mobile microsites. In the case of the Jaguar ad shown, clicking on the link takes you to a Jaguar mobile microsite hosted (and possibly even created) by Microsoft. I’ll leave the site criticism for another day, but if you visit the site you can see for yourself that the most critical image asset – the advertiser logo – doesn’t even render correctly.

eMarketer, in a somewhat misleading article entitled “Few Answer Mobile Marketing Call,” is reporting what most of us in the industry feel on a daily basis. Despite all the hype, all the bullish forecasts, trumped up press releases… case studies and industry events, mobile marketing is still has a long way to go as a marketing and advertising channel.

I say “somewhat misleading” because, as although the article cites MMA data that revealed only five percent of Americans reported engaging in a mobile marketing activity in 2007 (up from two percent in 2006), the response rate of such campaigns was as astronomical twelve percent. This compares well with response rates of other direct channels, such as telemarketing (7.2 – 5.6%), direct mail (2.3 – 1.2%) and email (.85 – %).

What was that again about “Few Answering the Call” of mobile campaigns?

Also highlighted in the report was the rapid growth of picture messaging in the US, due in no small part to the intercarrier MMS agreements hammered out by all major US carriers in the latter half of 2005 and early 2006. Similarly, SMS messaging didn’t really take off in the US until intercarrier text messaging was made possible in 2003. The final piece of the MMS Marketing puzzle remains the (lack of) availability of intercarrier SMS Short Codes. Currently the call to action for most MMS campaigns in the US remains an akward email point of entry – awkward because most non-smartphone users have difficulty multi-tapping out the “@” sign. In a statement accompanying the MMA study, Gene Keenan, Vice President of Mobile at Isobar and former traveling chef to the Grateful Dead, indicated he is also bullish on photo messaging-related marketing campaigns 2008, stating that he “expect[s] to see some very innovative campaigns this coming year using picture phoning.”

According to Mobile Marketer, a daily mobile marketing industry newsletter that started appearing in my inbox yesterday and that claims to be “the news leader in mobile marketing, media and commerce,” there was a 22 percent increase “in the number of consumers who received SMS text ads in the United States”, (3Q Year of Year) garnering “an 11 percent response rate.”Mobile Marketer cites M:Metrics as a source, although I found no mention of the third quarter data among its public releases.

Giving Mobile Marketer the benefit of the doubt (which may be a bit of a stretch considering the publication’s first issue featured a self-serving column written by an email services firm that felt more like a sales pitch than an “opinion” piece), I have some difficulty with the overall concept of “SMS Advertising.”SMS is by definition a “pull” marketing channel, meaning that all SMS engagements are user-initiated. If, after the initial engagement, the user receives a marketing message contained within a response message, I would hardly classify that as “advertising.” By most accounts an “Advertising” message would involve some sort of “public broadcast” to a large group of people. If I had to classify this type of marketing, it would probably fall somewhere between Direct Response, Sponsorship or even CRM (if there’s ongoing messaging activity to a list of mobile “opt-ins”).

Why split hairs? Well, for one thing, its important for the Mobile Marketing industry as a whole to get behind a set of standards and terms that are easily understood by the overall marketing community at large. By incorrectly calling this type of activity “advertising,” clients are getting misaligned perceptions about the medium and its uses, incorrectly thinking that they can “blast out a SMS message to the public,” advertising-style.

Interestingly enough, there are some genuine SMS Advertising campaigns going on in the US market. Who, you ask, would have the nerve to ignore MMA best practices and blast out SMS messages without first getting permission to do so? That would be the only group with no fear of the carriers coming in and shutting them down… The carriers themselves! That’s right, “operators are the main source of SMS ads,” states Mark Burk of M:Metrics.

I think we can all agree that unsolicited SMS ads are not the future of mobile marketing. That said, if we are to speak of “Mobile Advertising,” lets be careful of what exactly we are talking about. There are many legimate forms of mobile advertising, from mobile web banners, to mobile video spots, and even in-game ad units. All are legitimate advertising channels because the user has accepted these mediums as ad-supported, and while consumers certainly don’t welcome (most) ads with open arms, they put up with them so long as they don’t dominate the experience.

The same cannot truly be said for mobile messaging.

sun qr bombshellProps to the The Sun (UK) for making QR codes sexy. Today’s publication features a full page “spread” (sorry, couldn’t resist) introducing readers to QR codes, which they tout as “a new kind of barcode, [that] will revolutionalise the way you use your mobile – and the way you read your Sun.” By snapping a photo of the above QR code with a QR reader (a mobile application that can read and decode QR codes) the SUN’s mobile site will automatically launch in the reader’s mobile web browser. In addition to linking to a web page, QR codes can initiate an SMS, MMS or IVR event, or can be used to initiate the transfer of web based content, such as mobile wallpapers, games or video clips.

Personally I’m bullish on QR in 2008 here in the US, as they provide an excellent work around to the UI / URL issue inherent in non QWERTY mobiles (as well as the fact that you can’t WAP push on the Verizon network), and are in fact much easier to use that even the (somewhat) popular Shortcode / keyword mechanic. The barrier to QR code usage has always been getting the readers on the devices (historically only a few Nokia handsets have shipped with preloaded readers, and to my knowledge never in the US).

It seems that this barrier may be (slowly) coming down. I’m told many of the major US carriers are getting behind the technology, giving the downloadable readers some fairly prominent deck placement over the next few quarters (sources confidential). Also, Google has stated that Andriod will feature a basic, but functional “format agnostic” QR reader, to be preloaded on all devices shipping with the Android Open OS. More preload deals are apparently forthcoming in the next 12 months.

All of this bodes well for activating “physical world” QR-driven mobile marketing applications, including QR integration on product packaging (for product information, or eventually purchase), print, outdoor, and even television advertising (yes, you can scan a QR code from a standard def LCD, plasma or even CRT monitor).

$5 to the first person who spots a QR being used in the US and posts it here… and $10 if it’s being used in a “scavenger hunt”-type activity.

Amobee Media Systems has selected Winstar, known primarily as a niche online advertising and production firm, to rep their mobile advertising inventory (release). You may recall that that Vodaphone and Telefonica both made strategic minority investments in Amobee a few weeks ago, announcing that Amobee would be rolling out ad services for the carriers’ inventory in Greece, Czech Republic and Spain markets.

Amobee’s play has always been to go after carrier deals, as that’s where the bulk of the mobile ad inventory is at present, and it also allows the company to offer integrated ad packages across most mobile touch points (MMS, SMS, WEB) – a level of integration that’s rare in today’s marketplace. The challenge Winstar (and therefore Amobee) will face is that (so far) the most difficult part in the mobile advertising value chain has not been procuring the inventory… it’s been selling it. Both EnPocket (now Nokia) and Third Screen Media (now AOL) enjoyed early successes in securing large swaths of carrier inventory, only to run into problems on the sell-side. Tales of <20% sell thru on any given month were not uncommon.

Of course neither of these two scenarios involved the type of “integrated mobile ad packages” that Amobee brings to the table with their “carrier-grade technology.” That being said, my hunch is that Winstar has bitten off far more than it can chew, and that Amobee took an unnecessary risk in going with a small player… a larger online ad network could obviously do a better job repping the mobile inventory, but would give Amobee a smaller cut of the revenue.

Amobee seems to be following the same business model as their carrier partners: tie up smaller players and take a bigger piece of the pie… forgoing (short and mid term) gross revenues for larger (long term) revenue shares.

Of course if Winstar really under performs I’m sure Amobee will be free to find additional partners to help sell the inventory.