Voice: The Once (and Future?) Killer App
While the potential of truly targeted interactive mobile display advertising on such devices is clearly huge, and real, the fact remains that, for all the buzz, actual "power" mobile Wb users remain a tiny minority of all cell phone users.
As the mobile Web struggles to achieve scale another, less glamorous, but nonetheless already viable option for targeting at scale exists, voice.
"Each of the last three years has started out as the year of mobile, but because information is so notoriously siloed it's been hard for the industry to achieve that big take-off," says Randy Haldeman, CMO of Apptera.
While the industry has been mostly focused on trying to scale mobile Web banner and text ads, Apptera has staked its claim to a less beaten track, one where there aren't so many obstacles.
"There are five BILLION cell phones on the planet and every single one of them has voice," Haldeman explains. "When you look at text ads, there's a pretty high penetration of mobile users who now have SMS but it's not very rich in interactivity. On the other hand, the mobile Web is very rich but still has very small penetration among wireless customers, high-single digit or maybe 10% to 12%. But with voice, though, much as it's taken for granted as retro, you have universal penetration and really very rich interactivity."
An area that's actually been the focal point of early adoption for voice based targeting has been the Moviefone services, AOL and others.
"People forget," says Haldeman, "but there are still 80 million calls a year for information about movie show times, so it's a huge and perfectly receptive audience to hear about other entertainment offerings."
Until recently movie studios attempting to use the Moviefone channel to promote future releases simply repurposed audio from their movie theater trailers.
The possibilities of personalization of voice-based targeting go far deeper, Haldeman believes. "What we found," he recalls, "was that if you took some of the available data about who was calling and attempted to personalize the message, even in just very basic ways, you could generate much higher click-throughs. For instance, when a client was trying to promote a forthcoming family movie featuring a dog, we targeted audio ads at families checking movie schedules for similar current films.
"It was obvious many of the people who were calling in for movies about a family with their dog were parents who wanted to take their kids to a movie. So instead of running the repurposed trailer we tried something more targeted. We tried an ad that said, 'If your kids like movies and like dogs they'll love this movie. Press one and you'll get a free ringtone of a puppy, and we'll sign you up to get a message the day before the new movie comes to your area.'"
Apptera discovered that 70% of the callers were women and that if they changed the message to a female voice, a "mom to mom" message would get a far greater response. Very obvious basic stuff, but something you can't do with a text ad.
Another area of voice-based targeting that's gaining traction, Haldeman says, is audio ads for "dinner and a movie" promotions for restaurant chains.
"If someone calls looking for a movie at a particular mall multiplex," Haldeman explains, "a restaurant chain can offer a special where if you press one you get a coupon for $10 off a meal. That offer can be personalized based on the type of movie people are calling about. For instance, if it's a G-rated family movie the offer might be a free dessert. If it's an R-rated film, the offer could be a free Margarita. With each of these offers you could test copy and voice to optimize very easily."
The applications of this targeting can be expanded into multiple verticals. For instance, AOL Moviefone callers who requested show times to a recently-released Marvel comics film heard a voice ad for an upcoming film in the same "super-hero" genre, and an offer to receive an SMS-text reminder when that film is released. Seeing that it's mostly young men who are interested in super-hero movies, a myriad of demographically related advertisements could also be played for relevant products and services , such as cars, sports or drinks. Along these lines, Appthera is working with a broadcaster promoting its "Speed Channel" programming by targeting audio ads at action movie fans.
"While entertainment is a key early adopter vertical the channel is also rapidly gaining interest from travel related advertisers," says Haldeman. "There are still over 100 million calls per year to airlines for plane tickets and information," he observes. "That's an enormous amount of time where people are obviously interested in things like rental cars and hotels and would be highly receptive to compelling offers relevant to their interests -- such as rental cars, hotel discounts, and sports, music or theatre tickets."
Though at this point aggregation of behavioral data remains nascent, Haldeman believes that a form of behavioral targeting could readily evolve in the near future.
"At this point," he says, "we're collecting call data for the future purpose of taking a look at how you could, with stringent privacy controls kept in place, personalize offers based on data that someone has called eight times in the past three months to find out about show-times for G rated films, or someone is a big chick flick fan or loves action movies. There's enormous potential here to begin segmenting by affinity."
Looking forward, Apptera sees the possibility for adding viral and video dimensions to mobile voice.
" Given the explosion of social networking in mobile," Haldeman says, " we can see offering a function where people who've received that offer, say, for the free