Wireless Operators To Standardize Marketing Guidelines

Aiming to make mobile advertising easier, the four major U.S. wireless operators have agreed to align their mobile marketing practices to form a standard set of guidelines in conjunction with the Mobile Marketing Association.

Under the agreement, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA will consolidate their respective mobile marketing rules and codes of conduct, or "carrier playbooks," into a single document to be released by the end of June. The new uniform code will follow consumer best practices promulgated by the MMA.

The trade group calls the step a "milestone" in improving the efficiency of mobile campaigns, estimating it will lead to $200 million in reduced costs industrywide. Among the key goals of the effort are to provide uniform disclosure policies, streamline short-code marketing programs, accelerate the rollout of mobile campaigns, and ensure more consistent auditing of campaign results.

"The MMA's unified best practices are an important step in streamlining the processes and reducing barriers and cost to enter the direct-to-consumer market," said Venetia Espinoza, T-Mobile Director of Mobile Apps and Partner Programs, in a statement echoed by executives at Verizon and Sprint.

Differences among the carriers' competing technologies, handsets and marketing practices have long proven an obstacle to the growth of mobile advertising. The less fragmented and complex the process is, the more willing new advertisers will be to experiment -- and existing ones to increase spending.

In that vein, mobile ad executives welcomed the initiative. "In addition to eliminating this uncertainty over rules and compliance, uniform guidelines will also eliminate a lot of cost and inefficiency for everyone in the ecosystem," said Steven Rosenblatt, senior vice president of advertising sales for ad network Quattro Wireless.

He said he is also counting on the agreement to accelerate carrier approvals for proposed mobile marketing programs, so that "the carrier ecosystem will move at 'advertiser speed' to launch and modify campaigns."

Jason Spero, vice president and general manager of the Americas for rival ad network AdMob, agreed. "Having all four of the largest U.S. operators agree to one standard should help grow mobile advertising by making it easier for advertisers to run large campaigns across multiple networks," he said.

A report issued this month by Lauren Rich Fine, research director at ContentNext Media, suggested the mobile landscape is slowly becoming more amenable to advertising.

"While mobile advertising and marketing has yet to live up to expectations, the medium is increasingly becoming accessible and scalable and the creative is improving such that there are a growing number of campaign success stories," she wrote in "The Changing Mobile Industry And What It Means For Media Executives." Juniper Research estimates mobile ad spending totaled $1.3 billion last year.

With consumers increasingly embracing mobile applications beyond the carriers' walled gardens -- via the iPhone or Google's Android mobile operating system, for example -- the operators may feel more pressure now to cooperate to boost mobile marketing. "Consumers are demanding more than what AT&T and Verizon want to give them and now want to directly access what (mobile) developers are willing to provide," according to Fine.

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