Intrusion Doesn't Constitute Advertising
By Carlo Longino, Tue May 03 18:15:00 GMT 2005

Pushing TV ads to mobiles in an airport business class lounge: the height of innovation in mobile advertising?

MediaWeek is billing a Volvo campaign in the business class lounge at London's Heathrow airport as "revolutionary". Perhaps they're just easily impressed -- Volvo television ads play on the plasma screens in the lounge, then every handset with Bluetooth turned on gets sent a message asking if the user wants to download clips from the ad to their device.

An exec from the car company says it lets them "reach our target audience at different stages of their air travel experience and provide them with an opportunity to interact and engage more deeply with the Volvo brand." Um, okay. Because watching parts of TV ads on a tiny screen is so interactive and engaging.

The term "opt-in" gets used several times throughout the article, with the companies behind the campaign saying it embodies permission marketing -- nevermind that initial message, which sounds an awful lot like bluespamming. The head of one of the companies says it's "not annoying" people, which apart from being a questionable assertion, may only be true because it's the first such system in the area. What happens when every shop in the airport starts sending out the same kind of messages, or every store in a shopping mall by which you pass.

Opt-in needs to mean opt-in. There's no doubt that Bluetooth can be used to pass along useful information or compelling content: check out what Jellingspot is doing, for instance, or the example cited in the MediaWeek article where Hypertag is doing a promotion in record shops for the band New Order, where passers-by can download an MP3 from the group's new album. Both offer something cooler than repurposed TV ads, and are truly opt-in, requiring the user to pull the information, because, presumably, they're interested in it.

The mobile platform also offers a large possibility of real interactivity, as well. Following on the previous example of an SMS-controlled sprinkler on a billboard in Germany, Nike has unveiled a new, 23-story, mobile-controlled sign in New York City's Times Square. Promoting its iD line of personalized shoes, the billboard lets people use their mobiles to design a shoe on the giant screen. After they finish, a message is sent to their phone with a wallpaper showing their design and a link to the iD Web site so they can buy the shoe.

The Nike billboard is interactivity on a large scale. It's a much more compelling and interesting experience than beaming some TV ads to a mobile, and offers a much better chance for creating a relationship between the brand and the individual. It requires people to stop and think about what they're doing, but lets them remain in control for the entire experience -- it doesn't hit them with an unsolicited message, interrupting whatever they're doing and asking them to stop.