ctia-vegas.jpgHonoring The Very Best in CTIA Show Floor Swag!

At first glance it might seem odd to honor those little branded trinkets given out on the show floor – hardly worth one’s time to pick up – let alone to honor with an award. Yet, the creation of a truly quality show floor giveaway is a highly challenging task – a process laden with strict, yet unwritten rules that one must follow if one is to succeed in this oft derided genera.

First, there is the cold Swagonomic reality that these artists must face: Swag items are usually confined to the “less than $3 per item” category – not exactly the hottest area of the catalog. Second, conference swag must reinforce several (often competing) brand messages: there is the company’s brand itself, the industry the company is in, as well as the city where the conference is being held. Then there is the question of utility: Will the prospect find the item useful? Finally, there is the need to stand out and get noticed – in a conference otherwise awash in a sea of like-minded exhibitors.

Considering all this, as well as a final factor dubbed “industry timeliness” (i.e. how well does the Swag item capture “the moment” of the wireless industry), we’ve scoured the show floor at the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas to bring you the best of the best.

Therefore, without further delay, Mobilestance.com is proud to present the winners of “The Swaggies” – our homage to those seemingly unimportant conference freebies and a heretofore neglected form of commercial artistry that may very well portend the direction of our fledgling industry.

Note: Hi-res images of all winning Swag items can be found at bottom of the post.

  • Winner, Best Writing Implement: Call2Recycle. Very few areas of the show floor are as competitive as the “Writing Implement” category. Nearly every other company at the conference offered attendees endless varieties of branded pens, pencils, markers and crayons. That said, Call2Recycle, a non-profit ” promot[ing the] recycling of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries,” successfully captured the palpable “green vibe” of the conference by crafting a pair of cleverly designed writing utensils created entirely of recycled materials (click here to view). The pen sports a smartly crafted cardboard body complete with wooden “pocket-protector”-style clip, while the pencil was created entirely from recycled currency.
  • Winner, Best Mobile Accessory: Reagan Wireless. Until now this category has been a non-starter… plagued with inane creations such as the ubiquitous mobile “screen wiper” and equally ill advised “mobile caddy.” Padded cell covers and other trinkets are of equal value, with the litany of handset models in circulation it becomes next to impossible to create something of mass interest. Samsung (as they have done in previous shows) was offering free batteries and other valuable items to visitors owning their handsets – the catch was that you had to produce a Samsung handset as proof of ownership. In a move seemingly pulled from the corner of Mott and Canal, the upstarts at Reagan Wireless took this basic concept and turned it up a notch – offering free Blackberry and Motorola cases and chargers to anyone who dared reach into a pair of large, unmarked cardboard boxes – no questions asked (see image here).
  • Winner, Best Plush Toy: NSTL appRelay. The guys at National Software Testing Labs may hate bugs, but they’ve made this one famous… bringing him/her to show after show and no doubt in front of the children of many a conference-worn, wireless exec. It’s been rumored that the NSTL bug (and flyswatter companion) have their own Facebook page and have been spotted throughout the world, posing in front of scenic landmarks. No sightings yet of the alleged Facebook profile – but anyone who finds it please leave a comment and pass it along.
  • Winner, Best Travel Accessory: Acme Packet / Novara (tie). Branded travel items are a popular category, as companies vie to meet the needs of weary, far-from-home conference attendees. While both winners sported a nearly identical “Luggage Spotter” giveaway (all that differed was the logo and the color), the item is so useful that it could not be ignored. Not only does it make it easy to find your bag in the airport luggage carousel when wrapped around a bag’s handle or strap, but it doubles as an extra layer of padding and holds a business card to boot.
  • Winner, Best Multi Tool: Talley Communications. An offshoot of the “Travel Accessory” category, the rising popularity of branded, MacGyver-esque contraptions at CTIA warranted the creation of a dedicated award. Talley left little on the cutting room floor in selecting this rugged behemoth. The tool offers office workers the option of stapling, taping and labeling… all from the convenience of one compact (and branded device). Doubles as a weapon of last resort if [insert office cliche here]…
  • Winner, Best Koozie: Opera Software. While usually this conference mainstay stays stubbornly on the more blue collar side of the conference, the geeks at Opera took one back for the Tri-Lams as they captured the coveted “Best Koozie in Show” award with their (now classic) black, fou-leather rocker-style “Opera” koozie. See ya in paradise, Booger.
  • Winner, Best Incorporation of Local Flavor: Openwave. After rifling through countless branded poker chips engraved with such witty slogans as “You can bet on [company X],” we finally came across this little gem – a stylish, mock-silver money clip. If only I had something to put in it after leaving Sin City…
  • Winner, Totally Useless Objects, Lit: DRT. There’s a special place in our hearts for totally useless objects that light up and sparkle – and DRT made sure we didn’t leave empty handed. This lava lamp-looking doodad shines multi-colored light through a heated liquid, which moves about suspended metal particles that scatter the light every which way. All in it’s less than three inches high, and carry-on friendly with less than 3.4 oz of liquid. Such pretty, pretty colors…

food3-copy.jpgWinner, Best in Show; Food & Beverage: Yahoo! Mobile. Congratulations to Yahoo! Mobile for capturing the fiercely competitive “Food and Beverage” category as well as our Best in Show award with their extravagant on-site Gelato parlor. The delicious treats, offered in twelve eye-popping varieties, were the hit of the show, and were just the thing to cool off with after a day spent sweating in the Las Vegas sun. The dessert successfully captured the oral fixation of this year’s show (read: the continuing evolution of voice recognition – get your minds out of the gutter!), and easily trumped the three varieties of smoothies offered at the AOL booth. Thanks to Ricky Montalvo at Yahoo! Studios for the photos.

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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.

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.