When Will They Learn? Mobile Advertising Is Not Mobile Spam
By Mike Masnick, Mon Aug 02 23:00:00 GMT 2004

Everybody seems worried about the mobile advertising industry. Maybe they should stop focusing on how to spam people, and start looking at ways to deliver services users want.

Ever since mobile messaging took off, there have been stories about how it can be used as a marketing channel. However, almost every discussion on the topic comes at it from the mindset of traditional advertisers, looking at how they can force users to view their ads. Unfortunately, they never seem to explore the problems that email had with spam, and the fact that email's basically been decimated as an effective marketing channel. If anything, mobile marketers brush off the spam claim by pointing out that, this time, it will be okay because all mobile marketing will be "opt in." Unfortunately, that's missing the point completely. Many email marketing campaigns have been opt-in as well, but because they weren't relevant or they came too often, they became spam in the eyes of the user. In a mobile environment, where a message has the chance of interrupting some other activity, such mistakes are even more likely to annoy and repel the target audience.

However, the marketers continue to go down that path. The Wall Street Journal reports today that advertisers are really getting excited about the opportunities for mobile advertising, while the Guardian is blaming the wireless operators for not making it easier to spam subscribers. This is backwards thinking. It's a view point of advertisers trying to translate old methods of advertising into a different environment where they simply don't fit.

Advertisers need to learn that they no longer have a captive audience. In a world where there are so many different media options, a system that annoys users or makes a single mistake in bugging them at an inappropriate time gets cut off. There are simply too many other options out there. While those in the mobile generation don't dislike advertising, they have so many other ways to spend their time, that any advertising needs to reward them or fit directly into what they're doing.

Some are realizing this. They're creating interactive mobile-based advertising that isn't about pestering users with ads, but about putting that user in control and giving them a reward for taking action. It's no longer about shoving ads in front of users' eyeballs, but about making those users want to seek out those ads.

The Wall Street Journal piece, for instance, talks about a new campaign by Absolut, working with mobile social networking outfit Dodgeball. The article claims that the campaign doesn't overwhelm people because it only sends them messages with bar recommendations three times a week: 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and midnight Saturdays. Unfortunately, that misses the point. If I'm not going out on Tuesday night, why should I be bothered with a message? If I decide to turn in early on Saturday night, do I want to be woken up by a message suggesting a new bar at midnight? The whole point of Dodgeball is to connect with your friends. Instead of randomly spamming users with bar recommendations, why not give a group of friends the ability to ping Absolut for a bar suggestion that comes back with a discount? Mobile marketing needs to be about providing users with something the users want, rather than what the advertisers want. In this day and age, anything else is just spam.