Mobile Advertising Should Benefit The User, Not The Advertiser
By Mike Masnick, Tue Jan 18 01:30:00 GMT 2005

Advertisers are descending on the mobile space rapidly. They are planning to take what they think works in the online world and simply movie to the mobile world. It may not be that easy.


Advertisers have been interested in advertising via mobile devices for quite some time, seeing it mainly as yet another medium after print, radio, television and the Internet. In fact, some see it as the best of all of these, as it could allow for customized advertisements with a real-time, location-based component. It sounds wonderful, if you're the advertiser. From the consumer side, however, things aren't as clear. Too many advertisers still think of advertising as something that needs to be intrusive to achieve the desired result. Instead, as the idea of the "captive audience" goes away, at least some advertisers are realizing there are other options out there.

In the online world, over the past few years, paid search has obviously become one of the fastest growing trends in advertising. What started out with the success of Google's ability to help users find something online, has realistically turned into the world's largest advertising network. Combine this mad desire to get advertising on mobile phones, and the recognition that search and advertising are so closely intertwined, and you end up with stories about mobile advertisers pushing into the mobile alerts and mobile search world.

In both cases, these companies are simply trying to take something from the online world and make it mobile -- not recognizing what the mobile aspect means for the end user. The ads-by-SMS supporters always claim that it's not spam because it will always be opt-in. This takes a very narrow definition on what spam is. In fact, it takes the marketer's definition of what spam is. The end user's definition of spam is usually in agreement with FTC commissioner Orson Swindle, who once defined spam as "anything I don't like." Since mobile users are on the go and often involved in something else, not involving staring at their mobile devices -- any intrusive alert is being seen as even less likable than a similar emailed alert even when the end user requested it. If, as is likely, the SMS ads are not relevant or timely, the reaction is likely to be even more negative.

In the mobile search space, the problem may be just as bad. Too many of the efforts to turn search into mobile search forget the most basic difference between searching online and searching while mobile. When searching online, it's perfectly fine to return a list of links and let the user do the work to find what they're looking for. When mobile, users are usually doing something -- and thus are searching for immediate answers, not pointers on where to continue to research. Simply building a mobile search engine that requires more research is less interesting than one that gives answers immediately. Unfortunately, giving answers immediately would get in the way of plastering search results with paid search advertisements. Alternatively, simply pushing sponsored answers rather than the best answers will make users go elsewhere. The real breakthrough in mobile search is going to be in providing mobile users with results that fit within the framework of what they're doing and what they're searching for. That means, if a user is searching for a local restaurant, give them the information needed for local restaurants, but within that format also offer them the ability to request one-time coupons for that location, or let them know that they'll be able to use their cameraphones to automatically bring up coupons for the restaurant.

The future of mobile advertising isn't about taking what works in the online world and making it mobile, but in creating new offerings that actually recognize that the recipient is mobile. This means looking at why it's advantageous for the user to want the advertising -- not at why it's advantageous for the advertiser to want to advertise.