boost-amobee-copy.jpgAmobee, Winstar and Quattro Aim to Boost Position, Profitability.

Boost Mobile, the self-proclaimed “lifestyle-based telecommunications brand” focused on the prepaid (pay-as-you-go) US market, announced that they are partnering with Mobile Ad Serving Firm Amobee to bring their on deck mobile web advertising inventory to market – effective immediately – with Acura and Fox Searchlight Pictures already on board as advertisers.

Initially the Boost Mobile advertising inventory will consist of mobile web banner units, although it is well-known that Amobee’s “carrier grade” mobile ad server is fully-capable of serving far more interesting ad units, such as SMS sponsorship, mobile video ads and other enhanced units. Whether Boost ultimately decides to bring additional mobile ad formats remains to be seen.

In addition to the usual mobile web targeting parameters, such as content category and handset targeting, Amobee will leverage its direct carrier-relationship to provide more sophisticated mobile advertising services, including the highly sought-after “session-independent frequency cap.” No plans have been announced regarding more controversial approaches to mobile ad targeting, such location-based or behavioral targeting.

quattro-winstar-copy.jpgIn a noteworthy move, Amobee has chosen to augment its current mobile ad sales partner Winstar Interactive with US-based Quattro Wireless. Our regular readers will recall that back in December of last year mobilestance predicted that Winstar alone would be unable to sell enough ads to satisfy Amobee’s business objectives, and that additional sales partners would ultimately be needed.

It is unclear how ad accounts will be divided between these Winstar and Quattro, but clearly Amobee will need to actively manage this process to avoid any awkward channel conflicts that might arise with multiple (and independent) sales organizations selling the same product to an overlapping customer base.

Analysis. As Boost Mobile is a wholly owned division of Sprint Wireless, Amobee is well positioned to unseat current US legacy “on deck” mobile ad serving companies – specifically Enpocket (now Nokia), who currently manages all the on deck WAP inventory on Sprint – as well as Third Screen Media / AOL, who manages (and sometimes sells) the Verizon Wireless on deck inventory.

Quattro Wireless, who will be celebrating its first birthday in May of this year, has already impressed many with a series of strong moves – including their launch with P&G and Univision Movil, their long term / tail GetMobile platform, and the securing of key talent. Together with Amobee’s well-distributed technology and Boost’s highly attractive audience, these players just might have what it takes to achieve the ultimate (and so far elusive) goal in the mobile advertising marketplace: serious profitability.

mobilestance-dot-com-anarchy-in-the-uk.jpg UK Operators Try a Radical Approach to Tackling Thorny Issues Like Commerce and Advertising: Cooperation.

It’s obvious that the mobile marketing industry must resolve several key issues if mobile is ever to emerge as a legitimate marketing channel. These overreaching issues, mostly relating to a lack of standardization and of market access, are simply far to broad to be solved by any single entity within the space, regardless of their size, technological prowess, or market share. These big issues must be addressed by the industry as a whole, and unfortunately too few global markets possess the maturity to put aside their competitive instincts and collaborate on market solutions that benefit all members of the mobile value chain.

Thankfully, operators in the UK seem determined to buck this trend.

Looking back, clearly one of the first truly significant examples of (mobile marketing-related) industry-wide cooperation was the achievement of “intercarrier SMS” functionality, or the ability for consumers to send text messages to anyone, without regard as to whether the sender or the recipient are on the same wireless network or not. Obviously this challenge could have only been met on an industry-wide basis, with all the carriers in a particular territory coming to agreement on the base technologies and economics of the system. The results speak for themselves: Text message volume increased 350 percent in the first seven months after interoperability was introduced in the UK in April of 1999, and a similar effect was seen after interoperability was introduced in the US in 2001. In hindsight, most in the industry agree that text messaging would have remained a niche service with fairly limited appeal had this key milestone not been reached.

In further gestures of industry cooperation, the British operators appear keen on tackling sticky issues like mobile commerce and accountability in mobile advertising with a similar unified approach. Both areas, commerce and advertising, face key hurdles that can only be addressed by the industry at large… and leave it to the British to continue to set an example to the globe on how cooperation and civility has the potential to “elevate all peoples” –or in this case, all peoples looking to monetize mobility.

  • Easy Billing on the Mobile Web. Starting back in May 2006, the five largest UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, 3, O2 and T-Mobile) created the Payforit organization – with the goal of standardizing and launching the necessary systems to enable “seamless and secure” (off-deck) WAP commerce of digital content. From an organizational perspective, Payforit builds upon the successful “Aggregator” premium SMS model in that the m-commerce standard establishes a group of “Accredited Payment Intermediaries” who utilize a common set of API’s to connect directly to all five carriers… in this case for the purposes of authentication, and (ultimately) carrier managed billing. The system officially launched in September of 2007, and early results indicate the standard represents a marked improvement over existing premium SMS billing systems. In the two months following the launch, Bango reported that “92 percent [of Payforit transactions] were completed successfully with an error rate of less than 1 percent… with refund levels at below 0.01 percent,” representing a “significant reduction in the need for costly customer care” Furthermore, Bango found that the average transaction speed “across all five networks [was] five seconds” – another significant improvement over premium SMS. Additionally, mobile game developer I-Play reported a near “15 percent conversion rate” on its mobile web site following their implementation of Payforit

It should be pointed out that although these results are highly encouraging, Payforit is not (as of yet) the “m-commerce” silver bullet we all desire. Unfortunately Payforit is limited to small transactions of less than 10£, and only for soft (digital) products. The organization has made no public statements indicating that the carriers intend on expanding the program to include larger transactions and/or to accommodate non-digital (physical) products, unsubstantiated rumors and overzealous public comments notwithstanding. The reasons behind these limitations was likely driven by carrier unwillingness to accept the risks associated with essentially “vouching” for larger-sized, physical purchases. Additionally, a complex regulatory system in the UK’s financial sector presents significant hurdles for carriers wishing to (directly) facilitate large transactions. Currently the carriers do not fall under the UK’s (banking) regulatory system due to the low Payforit purchase price ceiling of 10£, but any increase would likely land the operators into this undesirable (read: the reddest of tape) direction.

Still, Payforit represents a tremendous leap forward in the evolution of mobile commerce. With this platform the critical obstacle of authentication via the mobile web has been overcome, and with it the comes the very real potential for secure, unrestricted mobile web-based transactions of any type of good – at any price point. In order to reach this ultimate goal we would need to see a supreme display of cross-industry cooperation, where the carriers agree to share their authentication data with the banks and credit card companies (either directly or via an intermediary). One can only imagine the tedious negotiations that this type of complex (and lucrative) arrangement would entail.

  • Eying Real Accountability in Mobile Advertising. As with commerce, the UK wireless operators are displaying a similar willingness to band together to take on the most significant challenge impeding the long term success of the mobile advertising market: accountability. In a joint release issued at this year’s 3GSM in Barcelona the very same five leading UK carriers announced that they had “formed a working group to define common metrics and measurement processes for mobile advertising.” The working group will be focused on drafting a feasibility study examining “the deliver[ry] of cross-operator metrics to the media and advertising communities” in the UK. No timetables were revealed other than that the group planned on releasing “recommendations” before the end of 2008.

It is no secret that there is a profound need for drastically improved mobile advertising metrics (cross-carrier or otherwise). Many industry leaders and publications have become increasingly vocal on the lack of real accountability in the mobile ad space and how this will ultimately hold back the industry if it is not seriously addressed. As cookies and page scripting aren’t viable options on the mobile web, our only real hope for true accountability in the immediate future lies with the carriers.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see what approach the working group recommends. If history is any guide they will probably suggest a scenario similar to the aforementioned SMS and Payforit model, whereby a select few companies will be “given” (the right to purchase) preferential access to (in this case) key mobile web tracking data. This data is necessary to calculate crucial (and rudimentary) campaign stats such as unduplicated audience/reach and frequency, over multiple and overlapping wireless networks. These companies will then either act as data brokers and/or serve directly as providers of campaign and publisher-side metrics. This scenario begs some follow-up speculation, should the working group indeed decides to go down this well-worn path…

  1. Which companies will get the nod? Traditional fixed-line internet ad serving companies and networks (Atlas, Doubleclick, etc) and their mobile cousins (Amobee, AdMob, et al) will likely be competing with the site metrics specialists (Overture) and data brokers (Telephia, M:Metrics), as well as some of the more ambitious SMS aggregators and Payforit Accredited Payment Intermediaries looking to make a more aggressive push into advertising services. Serious spoils to the victors no doubt.
  2. What Data Points will be Passed by the Carriers? It would fair to say that at a minimum the carriers would need to pass an anonymous Unique Identifier to the ad server or other 3rd party. Other highly coveted data points of interest include subscriber IDs (mobile phone numbers), location and subscriber data. The former stands a good chance of inclusion in specialized cases should a real need be identified (such as a m-commerce extension), while the latter two seem too controversial for immediate consideration.

The Opacity of Hope? Undoubtedly the mobile marketing industry faces tremendous challenges if it is to realize its great potential as a promotional channel. While it’s commonly known that these challenges will only be met if the companies making up the mobile industry can put aside their differences and agree on common goals and approaches, it is encouraging that markets like the UK are taking a leadership position in this area. We can only hope that other markets will soon follow suit.

sxsw-2008-groundhog-day-mobilestance.jpgIf this year’s SXSW is any guide, we all may have to wait a little while longer before the arrival of Springtime for mobile marketing.

SXSW. Four letters that have come to stand for authenticity, innovation, and unrequited cool.

Yet unlike last year’s festival, mobility and mobile marketing at this year’s show seemed content with recycled tactics pioneered at other festivals, some of which are now more than three years old.

On the consumer facing-side of the festival, ringtones, SMS mobs, giveaways, mobile blogging and the ubiquitous “mobile festival guides” ruled the day, while the mobile-related panels at the industry-focused SBSX Interactive Festival seemed equally content with sales-heavy “forums” and other the conference mainstays.

Mobile marketing-related festival highlights are as follows:

  • Festival Guides. Several SMS and mobile web-based apps provided attendees with a “mobile guide” to the countless panels, parties, performances and film premieres punctuating the hipster-friendly event. eZee, creator of WebClip2Go, created the most robust of the mobile show guides in their “SXSW Interactive Companion” mobile-web service, aggregating numerous show-related feeds into an easy-to-navigate festival portal. Other notable mobile show guides included SXSW’s official mobile site, sxsw.mobi (including a version formatted for iPhone), and an impressive offering of SMS alerts, indexed by close to thirty keywords correlating to specific festival topics such as “musicparties”, “pizza” and “wifi.”
  • Mobile Marketing. As if the above mobile festival guides weren’t enough, Toyota and Urban Outfitters also offered SMS show alerts as a compliment to their sponsorship of “Free Yr Radio”, which touted itself as “an online resource to make your SXSW 2008 better than ever.” An online promotion also featured a “Win YR Way to SXSW 2008” sweepstakes, as well as an online form to sign up for mobile alerts from Toyota and Urban Outfitters. An “Airport Pickups” service rounded out the Toyota sponsorship (a glamorous ride in a Toyota Yaris, no doubt).
  • Panel Sessions. There was no shortage of mobility-related talk at the SXSW Interactive Festival. Hats off to anyone willing to brave the hours of laborious sales pitches masquerading as info sessions in order to glean the occasional “key learning.” Mobile marketing-related panel topics included “Video Production for Mobile Devices” (Jason Meil, Sr VP, Current; David Todd, VP Content & Strateg, Eyespot; and Hank Blumenthal, Program Mgr of Emerg, Schematic), “Increase Revenue by Mobile-Enabling Your Services” (Shawn Bose, Director of Prod Strategy, uShip; C. Eric Smith, Pres, UnWired Nation Inc; and Bill Flitter, CEO, Pheedo Inc), “Mobile Media You Can Move To” (Michael Epstein (Founder, Untravel Media Inc; Silvia Vergani, Untravel Media), “Mobile Phones: International Devices of Mystery” (Nathan Eagle, Research Scientist, MIT; Jonathan Donner; Neil Churcher, Head of Design, Orange) and “Using Entertainment to Create Effective Mobile Advertising” (Adam Zbar, CEO, Zannel Inc, Lathan Hodge, Co-Founder, Rapstation; and Eric Eller, SVP Prod/Mktg, Millennial Media).
  • Awards. In the “11th Annual SXSW Web Awards” Mosio took the top prize in the “Sites optimized for handheld and portable devices” category, which is odd in that Mosio is a text message (rather than web)-based application. Similar to ChaCha, Misio features a human-powered search engine whereby helpful Netizens happily answer your mobile queries (this, unlike ChaCha, which utilizes paid human “search responders”).
  • Miscellaneous. Location-based mobile social network Loopt teamed up with Filter Creative Group to provide original, geo-specific editorial content to Loopt subscribers, this according to Fierce Wireless. The service “deliver[ed] real-time, location-based broadcasting from [SXSW]… Eight correspondents from Filter magazine provid[ed] location-specific mobile commentary to alert attendees to the most promising bands, events and parties.” Finally, Opera debuted version 9.5 of its mobile browser, releasing it at their “Rock Opera” party, an event which seemed to be noted more for its swag than for the software it was promoting. While cherished by some, it seems that at this pace Opera will finally be ready for mass use around the same time as full HTML-capable, cookie-supporting mobile browsers become commonplace (thus making Opera altogether obsolete)

Analysis: While unfortunately none of the aforementioned mobile applications (other than the Loopt piece) seemed to break any meaningful new ground in terms of functionality and consumer application, what is truly disappointing is the lack of innovation displayed by the festival’s sponsors with regard to their application of “mobile marketing.”

While giveaways and alerts have their place, how many “show guides” does a consumer really need? None of the mobile web applications referenced had any real mobile advertising component to speak of, other than “The Interactive Show Guide”, which gave a half-hearted mobile adverting effort in that it was running Google Mobile AdWords ads. Perhaps it was a simple lack of sales effort (or desire) on the part of the application developers to integrate marketing offerings from the festival’s sponsors (or competitive brands looking to ambush the show), but either way this was a real missed opportunity to extend actionable, relevant, branded messaging to festival attendees and fanboys alike.

qualcomm-xiam-mobilestance-logo-lock-up-copy.jpg Somehow this got by most of the mobile news aggregators, but earlier in the week Qualcomm announced it was acquiring Xiam Technologies for $32MM (US).

Ireland-based Xiam Technologies is known as a provider of SMS messaging platforms and (of late) a mobile ad server branded “My Personal Offers System” or “MPOS.” In a increasingly crowed space, Xiam’s mobile ad server features no obvious differentiator in its claim of “enabl[ing]mobile operators and brands to make personalized recommendations to individual consumers that are tailored to their unique tastes and preferences using advanced profiling techniques. MPOS also leverages demographic, contextual and behavioral profiling to enable true one-to-one mobile advertising.” Sound familiar? Well it should, as it seems we’ve nearly heard this same pitch here, here and here (just to name a few).

Analysis. Although it is still somewhat unclear how Qualcomm, known primarily as a supplier of chip sets for mobile devices, mobile content management, and for its steady stream of intellectual property lawsuits, will integrate the Xiam products into their current offerings, they are likely to be packaged to their current carrier customers as either an “integrated, one-stop-shop” mobile advertising solution (sort of like what BREW attempted in the mobile content / transactional management space), or as a stand alone, “carrier grade” mobile ad server.

Either way, it is notable that Qualcomm is placing such a significant investment in their mobile advertising capabilities, as the chip giant seems to be recognizing that advertising services will be integral to their ability to maintain their leadership position their core (operator services) business.

nihal-buzzd-mobilestance-copy.jpg Buzzd, which bills itself as “the premier mobile, local search service, providing real-time information for bars, clubs and restaurants on the mobile device,” has been generating quite a lot of buzz for itself in recent days. Coming off an on-deck deal with Helio (the MVNO best described as the “Futurama” of mobile – beleaguered and on borrowed time despite a cultish, geek-friendly following), the start-up recently swept all three MobileMonday Peer Awards in Barcelona last month at 3GSM, inclusive of the Jury, Audience and Global MoMo chapter awards.

Mobilestance sat down with Nihal Mehta, founder and CEO Buzzd, to gain more insight into the company and its plans for the future. Mehta, no stranger to mobile marketing in the US, had previously co-founded ipsh!, one of the first full-service mobile marketing agencies in the US, which he later sold to Omnicom (NYSE: OMC) in 2005.

[mobilestance] Please give us the Buzzd elevator pitch. [Nihal Mehta] Marketers and brands alike are being drawn to social networking in general, due to enhanced consumer engagement & potential virality of the brand msg, for example empowering ‘tastemakers’ to become the ambassador for any given brand to their friends and outside communities. Mobile takes the msg one step closer, with the ability to target not only the most personal medium to any consumer, but in more sophisticated end user targeting (demographic, carrier, handset, and.. location- the holy grail!).

Buzzd offers brands the ability to connect with consumers not only based on where they are right now, but what they have been doing recently as well (behavioral targeting!). For example, Buzzd displays an Adidas advertisement to someone that might frequent a hiphop club. In addition, Buzzd pioneers the latest innovation in mobile advertising– not just tiny little banner ads. We are also experimenting with interstitials and allowing consumers to tag their profile with specific brand identities. For these reasons, mobile social networking portrays the holy grail in targeting consumers for brands and marketers.

[ms] How did Buzzd concept come about? Was there an “ah-hah” moment when the mental light-bulb just “went on?” [NM] The inspiration for Buzzd was purely selfish…. [the] inside of that bar, what was the scene like right now? The guy/girl ratio? How crowded was it? We wanted to create a service that would fulfill these questions, that no other service currently addressed.

[ms] How has the Helio subscriber base taken to Buzzd? Are you looking to do similar deals with other carriers? [NM] Helio is the first of many Buzzd ‘on-deck’ deals by which the operator provides a link on their WAP deck to market Buzzd for their user community. The Helio target has been a slam dunk, due to their 3G handsets (mobile web flies!) and targeted demo who consume lifestyle and entertainment content.

[ms] Let’s talk numbers. What sort of traffic are you looking at right now, and where you think you’ll be at the end of the year? [NM] Through only three products currently marketed (Timeout, Flavorpill & Buzzd on Helio), traffic has been ramping significantly. With many more partnerships on the horizon and an official off-deck launch in Q2 [of ‘08], we anticipate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users by end of year.

[ms] What business categories are showing the most interest in your offering? Are you selling your inventory on a sponsorship or CPM basis? [NM] We are selling three main categories to advertisers: co-branded/custom sites (see AKQA / Smirnoff nightlife guide), sponsorships (see flavorpill.BuzzD.com/m by NOKIA) and [on a] CPM basis. We will be offering specific location targeting soon, based upon the consumer’s self-identified location or through handset/carrier GPS or cell tower triangulation.

[ms] Where is Buzzd going next? What lies ahead for Buzzd in terms of technology, promotion and integration? [NM] Integration across social networks (Facebook, MySpace, bebo, etc); integration with all available LBS technology (handset/carrier GPS, cellsite ID, triangulation, etc); optimized iPhone/android/blackberry launchers; j2me/brew/symbian; much, much more.. Stay tuned and keep checking back on www.BuzzD.com!

[ms] Finally, give us your insights on the mobile marketing space in the US… where it is now and where it’s headed. [NM] I founded ipsh! in 2001 as a technology company, with a vision to become an agency. today, ipsh! along with a few other successful mobile marketing agencies, are finally full-service agencies, not only doing the execution, but [also] providing valuable creative, strategy and analytics. This is key to providing real value to the customer– 360 integration across MOBILE – i.e. Bluetooth, SMS, WAP, java, QR, etc– and tying it back through traditional channels (print, TV, radio, OOH, POP, etc). It’s finally happening, and we’re seeing more budgets dedicated to mobile marketing/advertising by the day. It’s exciting to finally have the initial vision realized and we hope to innovate with similar results in the mobile local/social networking arena with Buzzd!

The YouTube video demoing Buzzd on Helio can be seen here:

[wp_youtube]B91uzihA0TA[/wp_youtube]

ogilvyone-acision-logo-mobilestance-copy.jpg OgilvyOne, the Interactive and CRM arm of the WPP Group, and Plano, TX-based Acision, a mobile technology firm that provides the mobile messaging back-end to many Wireless Carriers worldwide, announced a “marketing alliance” to “enable mobile marketing and advertising for mobile operators and brands.” No specific mobile brand initiatives or product offerings are cited in the announcement.

Over the past few years OgilvyOne has been an active player in the US mobile marketing space, going back to their groundbreaking 2004 integrated mobile marketing campaign for Dove. Acision, who claims to “deliver more than half of the world’s text and multimedia messages and serves three quarters of all videomail users,” would seem an ideal parter for for OgilvyOne’s future direct marketing-based mobile messaging campaigns, although it is not clear what assets (other than its messaging platform) Acision would bring to a “mobile advertising” offering.

Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO, OgilvyOne hints at a future carrier tie-up (or at least reveals Acison/OgilvyOne’s pitch to the carriers) by stating that “it is crystal clear that the big opportunity for telco operators is to leverage their data assets.” Rory Buckley, CEO, Acision further reinforced their strategy by asserting that “Mobile operators have been incredibly vocal about their hopes for mobile advertising… the real potential lies in the targeting and delivery of marketing communications both for the operator themselves and for third party brands… Working with OgilvyOne, we are now in a position to offer support for the complete mobile marketing value chain; from an understanding of today’s mobile subscriber, through the technology, right into the brand strategy.”

Clearly then the missing piece is a Carrier willing to sign on and allow the two to manage their mobile messaging ad inventory (or at a minimum permit the two to leverage the consumer data currently managed by Acision for mobile ad targeting purposes). While there is little doubt OgilvyOne’s expertise in CRM and brand marketing combined with Acision’s Carrier relationships and current dominant role in the mobile messaging value chain will provide a compelling offering to mobile operators worldwide – it remains to be seen which (if any) of the Carriers will decide to move forward with the Acison/OgilvyOne integrated mobile messaging-based advertising offering.

burnett-akoo-logo-mobilestance-copy.jpg In related news, Publicis’ Arc Worldwide, the marketing services arm of Leo Burnett, announced a non-exclusive alliance with Akoo International, a provider of mobile messaging and integrated display technology. The announcement makes no mention of specific brands committing to any marketing services resulting from the Arc / Akoo alliance.

Akoo’s primary offering is its “m-Venue” platform, which allows consumers to control and/or interact with video content displayed in retail locations and other out-of-home places – either via the internet or through a mobile message-based application. The solution also features a “music ID”-like feature, whereby consumers can text in to receive more information on the song that they are listening to (presumably for later purchase). The current m-Venue offering is tailor made for the labels, such as Universal Music Group and Sony BMG – the both of which are listed on the Akoo website as as either current or historical m-Venue clients.

The fit then, with Arc Worldwide, with its focus on direct-database marketing/customer relationship management, interactive marketing, promotional marketing and – most importantly – shopper marketing, is a natural one. It remains unclear if Akoo will be making a direct advertising play by aggregating a network of display spaces incorporating their m-Venue system, or if they will merely be providing the back-end technology for Arc (and other agencies and brands) to activate independent OOH display inventory.

Analysis: While both agreements provide further evidence of the accelerating activity and interest in the mobile marketing sector, it is telling that neither announcement provides any mention of actual mobile brand activity. What is clear that both Publicis and WPP anticipate mobile as an important element in the integrated marketing space, although both holding companies are playing things somewhat safe by announcing “marketing alliances,” rather than making direct investments in and/or launching Joint Ventures with either of these mobile technology firms.

 

cbs-loopt-logo-lockup-mobilestance-copy.jpgCBS Mobile will begin incorporating GPS and other cell tower-based location data supplied by Loopt, a location-aware mobile social networking service, as a targeting parameter for advertisers purchasing banner ads on its suite of mobile websites, such as CBS Sportsline Mobile (http://cbs.volantis.net/sportsline/) and CBS Mobile News (wap.cbsnews.com/news), this according to The New York Times. Loopt has stated that their deal with CBS is not exclusive, opening the door for other mobile publishers and ad networks to follow in CBS’s lead.

While the move is notable in that CBS Mobile becomes the first North American publisher to bring location-based mobile web adverting inventory to market, it should also be noted that Loopt is currently only available to Sprint Wireless (and Boost) subscribers on a limited number of handsets. Loopt, a Silicone Valley startup, recently raised $12MM in Series B funding.

Eagerly awaited by some, the concept of true, location-based mobile advertising has, overnight, moved from the realm of the hypothetical to the desert of the real. For years, it seems, we have all been nibbling at the margins of the issue, exploring and debating from a safe distance. Now, as this once academic curiosity becomes cold reality, we are forced to examine the issue from a more practical perspective.

  • Privacy. It seems that the idea of Location-Aware Mobile Advertising cannot be explored without first discussing privacy. But while previously the focus was on generic privacy issues such as transparency and security, we are now free to explore the issue in the most concrete of terms: Has Sprint / Boost / Loopt specifically secured user permission to pass (or sell) their personal location data to third parties (such as CBS or their ad server) , or is a more dubious, “opt-out” mechanism being employed? Who will be held responsible if an unthinkable security breech occurs, such as a the “hijacking” of a user’s GPS data for malevolent or even criminal purposes? Clearly none of CBS’s major brand advertisers are eager to chart this new territory themselves, as it has been reported that (as of press time) none have purchased any of CBS’s GPS-targeted mobile advertising inventory.
  • Scalability. Privacy issues aside, there will be plenty of local, regional and national advertisers saying, “Great! Where can I get some of this?” This will be good news for CBS, as their mobile inventory is likely not flying off the shelves (this assumption is based on the fact that the network currently feels the need to augment its national sales force with four mobile ad networks – Third Screen Media /AOL, Millenial Media, AdMob and Rhythm New Media – in order to begin to fill its mobile inventory). How then, will advertisers purchase the GPS inventory? How will the local ad inventory be parsed, tracked and forecasted (this, across all of CBS’s five individual sales channels no less, most if not all utilizing different (if not incompatible) ad serving platforms!).
  • Economy. From the media buyer in me: How much of a price multiple does one place on GPS targeting? Will it follow current media targeting models, and increase based on the granularity of the location-targeting? Surly some areas (say – 5th ave, between Central Park South and 46th St) should cost more than say, the outskirts of Palm Desert… but how much more? Sure, we can all agree to “let the market” decide – but this is the same market that has settled on $45 on deck CPM’s and an estimated 16% monthly inventory fill situation (sources confidential)… not exactly a trustworthy market to be sure. Where’s the self-service, auction-based play on this one? (AdMob, are you listening?)

Analysis: While on its face the Loopt / CBS deal represents a minuscule number in terms of actual audience reach (not to mention reach potential… with Loopt users probably representing less than 1% of the US pop), the marketplace affects cannot be easily overstated. We’ve finally gotten beyond relatively simple questions of if or even when a major US carrier will start utilizing GPS data to target mobile ads, and into the much more interesting realm of real world applications.

groupm-celltick-logo-lockup-mobilestance-copy.jpg Group M, the parent company of WPP media agencies (MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia and MindShare), and UK-based Celltick, a provider of mobile “Idle Screen” ad serving and inventory management technology, jointly announced a “regional cooperation agreement” today whereby the two will “develop a joint mobile advertising proposition… for the Asia Pacific region.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Celltick will “actively promote… Group M as media partner for managed service contracts; GroupM is now the preferred media partner for advertising inventory on operator platforms served by Celltick’s LiveScreen(TM) Media. In return, GroupM will present Celltick’s LiveScreen(TM) Media as its preferred idle screen advertising solution for mobile operators and promote it as an advertising channel to media agencies in the region.”

Celltick claims its LiveScreen technology currently reaches the idle screens of over 200 million mobile users on over 20 operators worldwide, including Hutch, Orange and China Unicom.

Analysis: Putting aside the inherent conflict of interest Group M will face in “favoring” a partner’s media on the basis of a partnership arrangement, the real value of Idle Screen mobile advertising inventory has yet to be demonstrated in any unbiased and/or publicly available data and/or case studies. While there is little doubt that the inactive screen “push” model will be successful as a pure branding play, in remains to be seen if users will act (i.e. click) on idle screen mobile ads in large and/or reliable numbers. Judging by the context by which most mobile phones are used (i.e. to make a call, or engage in mission-based activity such as text messaging or even mobile search), we would suspect not.

Of course, Celltick could help us become believers in their approach by publishing some (independently verified) click thru data…

mobilestance world of WAPcraft warcraft GFXThis week was marked by an extraordinary series of high profile Mobile Web developments… which, when viewed in aggregate, were seen by many as evidence that the nascent channel has finally reached an inflection point.

All three major areas of the mobile web “ecosystem” (carriers, publishers and advertisers) announced significant site launches, partnerships and traffic milestones, including several blue-chip advertisers and content publishers such as American Airlines, YouTube, Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, A&E and the New York Times.

Despite these encouraging developments, several notable marketplace events served to point out the shortcomings of the emerging mobile web space, including a reminder of a glaring limitation of the mobile web from a metrics and reporting standpoint, as well as accounts of a public tirade involving nearly the entire mobile value chain – from one of the mobile industry’s more prominent (and animated) executives.

A busy week in the World of WAPcraft to be sure… here’s some of the major highlights:

  • Carriers. Last week’s most significant Mobile Web development came from AT&T Mobility, who announced a strategic alliance with Yahoo! whereby the internet giant will begin serving ads on the carrier’s “MEdia Net” mobile portal. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! and AT&T will divide up the on-deck advertising inventory for sale and/or for internal use. Additionally, AT&T ‘s yellowpages.com will now power local search on both AT&T’s Mobile and Wireline Web properties. AT&T has not yet announced when these changes will take affect.

    AT&T Mobility’s move follows earlier moves by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Collectively, the three carriers represent approximately 78% of the US mobile market. T-Mobile, the last of the “big four” US carriers without an on-deck mobile advertising play, has tied up with Yahoo! to serve ads on its UK “Web’n’Walk”mobile portal. Clearly the announcement from AT&T Mobility would inhibit T-Mobile’s ability to expand their Yahoo! relationship here in the US.

  • Publishers. This week witnessed an abundance of mobile website launches and/or relaunches from many of the larger content providers. YouTube announced the launch of its new Mobile Web site (m.youtube.com), as well as a new J2ME application (supported on Nokia 6110, 6120, E65, N73, N95 and Sony Ericsson k800 and w880). NBC announced the launch of 40 new WAP sites (as well as 3 new mobile video channels), including dedicated mobile web sites for NBC programs such as 30 Rock, ER, Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, ABC News announced that its mobile site (m.abcnews.com) would be providing “real time” US presidential election results, although Mobile Marketer reports that ABC refreshes its mobile website content [only] on an hourly basis.

    On the cable side, A&E Television announced the launch of mobile the A&E Network portal (mobile.aetv.com), as well as dedicated sites for The History Channel (mobile.history.com) and The Biography Channel (mobile.biography.com). The A&E mobile sites feature fairly standard mobile web fare, including “What’s on Tonight”, “Program Descriptions and Photos”, “Fan Polls and Trivia Games” and “Downloadable Wallpapers and Ring Tones.”

    Finally, moconews.net reported that the New York Times mobile website is now generating an average of 10MM page impressions per month, a 600% year-over-year traffic increase.

  • Advertisers. American Airlines announced the launch an extravagant new mobile web site that is sure to raise the bar for mobile websites in the airline category. The site utilizes a common URL approach (www.aa.com), which automatically redirects mobile users to device-appropriate site versions (although mobile users have the option of reverting to the full HTML site, an option that hopefully will soon become a standard feature on most mobile websites). Currently the AA.com mobile site features include the ability for users to “check in for a flight, view their itinerary, check schedules, check the status of their flights, get information on destinations, weather or airports and contact American Airlines.”

    Future AA.com mobile enhancements targeted for a Spring ’08 launch include the ability for users to “book flights, change their reservations, view fare specials, request upgrades and enroll in” American’s AAdvantage loyalty program. Additionally, the carrier states that “many pages also will be viewable in Spanish.”

  • Criticism. UK SEO provider AccuraCast cast a spotlight on Google’s inability to effectively track conversions generated from AdWords Mobile. The challenge faced by Google is that its ability to track conversions relies on either Java script (embedded on a publisher’s page) or tracking cookies – technologies not supported by most (if not all, in the case of Java) mobile web browsers. To its credit, Google acknowledges its system’s shortcomings, noting that “conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, cost-per-transaction and value/click are adjusted to reflect only those sites from which we can track conversions.”

    In lighter news, this week at the AlwaysOn Media event in New York City Cyriac Roeding, SVP of CBS mobile, unleashed a public rant against the complexity and inherent dysfunction of the mobile ecosystem. Apparently no one was spared from Teutonic executive’s assault on the mobile industry; From the carriers (there’s too many of them! lack of technology standards! too many pricing options! too many service packages! poor marketing!) to the publishers and handset manufacturers (poor usability! content poorly organized!) and even the advertisers themselves! (they don’t understand mobile or the value it brings!). While attendees reported that Mr. Reoding’s “marketplace observations” were greeted with wild applause, mobilestance finds it ironic that the current Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association Board of Directors would choose to publicly rebuke, ridicule and embarrass nearly all of the organization’s members.

Analysis: While development of the mobile web ecosystem seems to be accelerating, it remains to be seen if a critical mass has been achieved – both in terms of users – as well as content. Still, all the major players in the space (carriers, content publishers, and advertisers) are taking the necessary steps to advance the channel towards reaching the seemingly inevitable goal of mainstream use. That said, it is clear that several prominent hurdles (most notably usability issues such as UI and network speeds, as well as the inability to cookie most mobile devices) still stand in the way of large scale consumer adoption and commercial exploitation of the mobile web.

twimm-sm-copy.jpgLast week was punctuated by a steady stream of mobile marketing-related announcements, studies, partnerships and launches – some interesting, some not so much… and none of which truly worthy of a dedicated post.

Nevertheless, taken in aggregate these moves represent an ever-advancing industry, charging forward on the backs of the innovators, the followers, and the “never say hype” over-enthusiastic forecasters.

We give you then, the first of mobilestance.com’s “This Week in Mobile Marketing”

TWIMM: We read the domestic Mobile Marketing trades, studies, announcements and insane market forecasts… so you don’t have to!

  • Mobile Search. Nielsen Mobile (formerly Telephia) announced that “46 Million [US] Mobile Data Users Used Mobile Search Functions in Q3 2007.” But before you get all excited, keep in mind that “The most popular form of mobile search among data users in Q3 2007 was 411 (18.1 million users), followed closely by SMS (text-message) -based searching, which was used by 14.1 million data users during the same period.” Yep… the “big news” is that folks are mostly using mobile search to look up local phone numbers – not exactly a headline generating statistic. Still, “while local listings were the leading search objective in terms of users, (27.1 million data users searched for local listings in Q3 2007), 14.8 million said they searched for information such as sports scores, news or weather, while nearly a quarter (11.3 million) said they searched for mobile content.” Good news for SMS Ad Networks such as 4INFO . Notably absent from the announcement was any mention of WAP-based search offerings such as those by Google, Yahoo, Jumptap and the like – other than a brief mention that “61% of 411 search users are female, while 60% of WAP (or mobile web) search users are male.”
  • Meanwhile in related news, Nokia’s head of search Jussi Pekka Partanen simultaneously hyped local search while taking shots at Google, as reported moconews.net. At the the Visiongain mobile search conference in London last week the handset giant contended that mobile search will be more context-focused than the existing page rank-driven engines currently dominating the desktop search market. Nokia’s current “Nokia Search” product seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, combining web search with local (meaning: on the device) content search.
  • The Mobile Web. 40% of web publishers have launched mobile sites, with another 25% planing to do so in the next year, this according to Jupiter Research in a report entitled “Mobile web sites: Designing for mobility.” The number is somewhat misleading, insomuch as “this number… likely reflects mobile versions that consist of frames and offer a kludgy user interface,” or so says Mediapost. The report states that only 3% of the above mobile sites are “mobile advertising enabled” – in that they have the ability to optimize ad delivery based on whether the user is viewing the page via a mobile device (versus a PC). Mediapost also notes that up to 1/3 of these pages enable mobile commerce of some sort, such as “instant transactions and the ability to drive shoppers into nearby stores” – a fairly vague definition of mobile commerce to be sure.
  • Notable Mobile Website launches included a dedicated mobile version of FIM’s Photobucket (m.photobucket.com), Discovery Mobile’s new mobile portal (discoverymobile.com, which houses the all of Discovery Communications’ mobile sites, such as Discovery Channel Mobile, Animal Planet Mobile, and TLC Mobile), and USA.gov Mobile (http://mobile.usa.gov – which seems to be a fairly straightforward RSS fed Gov’t info formatted for mobile).
  • Mobile Content. The NBA announced that they are partnering with Turner to handle all of its mobile-related content offerings, this according to Fierce Mobile Content. Fierce reported that “the cable network will assume operational control of the league’s digital efforts, including its mobile and broadband businesses. The partnership, effective for the 2008-09 NBA season and continuing through the 2015-16 campaign, also calls for TBS to take over programming, marketing and technical operations of NBA TV, the league’s 24-hour digital television network, and host and operate the NBA.com Network, which includes the NBA.com, WNBA.com and NBADLeague.com websites. In addition, TBS will operate NBA League Pass, the league’s out-of-market game package. TBS, Inc. and the NBA will jointly sell advertising for all of the league’s digital assets.”
  • QR Codes. In a rare break from our “US Bias,” mobilestance.com continues to cover The Sun’s “Babe-Infused” QR Code efforts (UK). This week the Sun announced the results of its experiment with the promising mobile marketing technology. According to the Sun, the “new mobile content service has achieved early success with around 11,000 users registered so far.” Buoyed by these numbers, the tabloid plans on publishing “another pull-out (supplement in The Sun) to further inform people on how to use QR codes.”
  • Research-Driven Market Hype. The results of two “hypefull” Mobile Marketing studies were announced last week. The first was on Monday from ABI Research, who announced that “mobile marketing is expected to grow to over $24 billion worldwide in 2013, jumping from just $1.8 billion in 2007,” this according to the research firm’s study/product entitled “Mobile Marketing and Advertising” (retail price: $4500). The second came from Advertiser Perceptions, who reported on Wednesday that “26% [of advertisers] said they were currently using mobile, 20% said they planned to use it in the next six months, and 54% said they are not currently using mobile,” as reported by Ad Age. These numbers were based on surveys of “2,000 brand marketers and agencies” as part of their “Wave Eight” study that seems to cover both “hot” hand held media channels, such mobile video and search -as well as “not so hot” channels such as podcasting.
  • Miscellaneous News. The FCC launched a probe to “determine whether mobile phone text messages and short codes are covered by non-discrimination provisions of the telecom act,” this according to RCR Wireless News. The FCC move comes in wake of Verizon’s recent high-profile decision to block text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America – a decision it quickly reversed under pressure from from a successful grass-roots campaign the organization launched against the carrier. Finally, Steve Jobs announced an underwhelming firmware update to the iPhone at last week’s Macworld 2008. Among the updates included features that now allowing users to send group SMS messages (something I can do on my two year old RAZR) and the non-GPS-based “Blue Location BEacon” feature in Google Maps (something I’ve been able to do on my Blackberry since Google launched the service late last year). Baby steps, to be sure. Forget a 3G version… I’m still waiting for such standard “features” as Cut and Paste!