Mobile Marketing In The Middle East: Some Smoke, But Where's The Fire?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Feb 08 22:30:00 GMT 2005

Following some predictions that mobile marketing will be a huge business in the Middle East over the next year, it appears that some are simply assuming the predictions have already come true, rather than looking at what's actually happening.

While there's been plenty of attention paid to east Asia, Europe and the US when it comes to mobile markets, some areas seem to get very little press coverage at all. Latin America or India have been the stories of choice when someone needs an "emerging markets" story, but there is also plenty happening in the Middle East, where the onset of real competition has driven somewhat rapid mobile adoption.

That's obviously good news for many vendors, suppliers and operators. However, it looks like some people may be getting carried away. In an article talking about how much the Middle Eastern mobile market has grown, a study predicting tremendous growth in mobile marketing and mobile advertising seems to be accepted as fact rather than a projection. Also, since the study in question is about worldwide mobile marketing, there's no discussion about how that plays into just the Middle Eastern market, where this particular article was supposed to apply.

Oddly, the prediction itself seems to cover 2003 until 2005 -- so there should be some empirical data to back up the assertions, but none seem to be included. Instead, the article says that mobile advertising will grow four-fold over that period of time. Of course, the messenger is a company selling services to offer mobile advertising solutions, so there's a reason for it to bias the presentation a bit to make it seem like a bigger opportunity. While the head of the company admits that he knows mobile marketers need to be careful of mobile spam, it appears that the only way the company is trying to do this is by making sure the communications are "ethical," and that the privacy of subscribers is respected.

Unfortunately, that's the wrong approach. It's the same approach of operators elsewhere who seem to think that if they hold back a little, and maybe don't overwhelm users, that their messages won't be considered spam. The problem is that not everyone will be able to hold back, and even if they do, there are so many companies that the "spam" factor will add up -- and people will start to judge any text message not relevant to what they're doing right then and there as spam. While there are debates over the definition of spam, the one that matters is how end users view it, and anything that annoys them and isn't relevant is spam. In the case of a mobile user, where messages are more likely to be intrusive, not only do the messages need to be generally relevant in terms of content, but they need to be relevant in a timely sense. They need to apply to what people are doing right at that moment.

Since no marketing firm is that smart or that capable yet, it still seems that the biggest real opportunity for mobile marketing is not in pushing advertisements that run a risk of upsetting users, but in mobile advertising that subscribers pull when appropriate. This may take a different mindset, but unless mobile marketers want to make the mobile phone as useless for marketing as email has become for computers, it's time that they stopped pretending that just a little spam is fine -- or even deluding themselves into believing that because some study says mobile advertisements will catch on, that they really will. That's not only true in markets like Asia, Europe and North America, but in emerging markets like the Middle East, as well.