Mobile Marketing Won't Work Here

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find novel and predictable means for delivering an advertisement or marketing message to Generation Y. As technology is adopted en masse by the tech savvy crews of Gen Yers, new opportunities, novel but seemingly unpredictable, begin to be created.

As recently as the last five years, a new form of marketing has begun to take shape, hoping to be the answer to accessing the 65 million Generation Yers who own a cell phone. This new approach is known as mobile marketing.

Essentially, a marketer will gain access to a list of private cell phone numbers, unbeknownst to the owners of the devices, and will send them a text message with advertisement copy. Initially, mobile marketing was seen as a cure-all for delivering new media messages to the hungry minds and eyes of new consumers. However, it was quickly found out to be even more ineffective the traditional television advertisements.

Not only did Generation Y not engage or begin a relationship with the brand, but its members openly rebelled against the invasive spam. In short, Gen Y did not like receiving unsolicited text messages from a third party that was trying to sell goods or service. Much to the dismay and shock of many marketers and companies, Gen Y began using its other new media tools, such as blogs and email, to communicate to the world its disapproval and frustration with the new attempts to attract attention.



The saying, "Bad news is good news," certainly doesn't apply here as the buzz created on the Internet about mobile marketing certainly led to its temporary demise. When it comes to marketing to Generation Y it is very important to pursue efforts that allow for transparency and feedback, immediate feedback. Mobile marketing does not allow for such transparency nor does it allow for relationship-building, in most cases. There is one major exception, however. Those Gen Yers who have opted into receiving text messages from advertisers or content providers who are viewed as acceptable have given marketers an unprecedented opportunity to build and maintain relationships with like never before. The power of mobile marketing, however slim, lies in its ability to relay desired messages for virtually no cost to a vast number of consumers. This is the upside to mobile marketing, cost and time/labor efficiency.

Being skeptical by nature as well as desiring a relationship with those requesting a moment of their time, Generation Y does not respond well to mobile marketing. It is another example of how marketers did not realize the consequences of their actions, however seemingly benign, before committing themselves. As understood by Gen Yers as well as Gen Y consultants, to reach this demographic you must, first, listen and, second, respond.

Mobile marketing is push instead of pull, very traditionally limited and is, simply, the use of a new medium to deliver content. As Generation Y continues to adopt newer technologies, marketers will continue to be one step behind, trying to deliver a message without attempting to develop a serious engagement with their new consumers.

24 comments about "Mobile Marketing Won't Work Here ".
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  1. Joy Liuzzo from TBD, May 8, 2009 at 1:48 p.m.

    Just wondering where you got the information that marketers were sending out unsolicited text messages? And that mobile marketing is more ineffective than traditional television advertising?
    I've been measuring the mobile advertising & marketing space for the past two years and have actually seen it work very well with Gen Y.

  2. paul myers, May 8, 2009 at 2:14 p.m.

    Big surprise! So, if Gen-Y had already tuned out to the ads and messages on TV why did marketers all of the sudden think that force feeding ads via cell phones would work?

    I don't see how anybody who did NOT opt in to receive something on their cell phone would be pleased when it occurred.

    Gen-Y wants to do their own thing and not be "forced" anything. Yet, they do want to know as much as possible about certain things, including brands. That is where the opportunity is.

    We have engaged Gen-Y via opt-in campaigns that generated response rates better than 70%. But, these ad messages were bundled with content that our target audience wanted in the first place. So, opting in to receive more content - even if it came with more brand messages - was acceptable to them. No only was it acceptable to themselves, but they also shared with their friends.

    Bottom line, if you tell them to do something, or force feed them anything - you are asking for trouble. But, if you offer them something they seek with little or no strings attached - other than a brand affiliation - they will not only accept it, they will embrace it!

  3. Matthew Roth, May 8, 2009 at 2:23 p.m.

    This is like saying interactive media and web marketing is ineffective because the majority of marketers use pop-ups. Yes, brands or agencies who have no idea what they are doing in the mobile space will purchase mobile opt-in lists (often times from media companies like radio stations who got the participant to opt-in under the guise of something like concert alerts) and then spam that list with unsolicited propaganda. The message is about Brand-X and has no mention of the original opt-in source leaving that participant to believe Brand-X just spammed them.
    This is as much mobile marketing as email spams about loosing 50lbs in a week is email marketing. Nor does this method of mobile marketing represent the true reach and effectiveness of mobile in regards to Gen-Y.
    I have personally been involved in the creation, execution, and analysis of mobile strategies for many major global brands that are easily outperforming their email and interactive media buying strategies both in cost of conversion as well as reach. Building these lists of participants who directly expressed interest in the brand and expressly gave their permission for the brand to communicate with them on their mobile device took several months but was accelerated though completely custom executions and cohesion with every other marketing medium those bands utilize.
    Mobile provides long tail efficiencies, not quick wins or instant ROI. Brands can continue to pay a premium to fish in other peoples ponds for fish that are indifferent to their bait, or they can build their own pond and stock it with fish who have explicitly expressed interest in what they have to offer.
    Secrets to success: provide utility, reward participation with something of real value, cohesion with other marketing efforts, custom campaigns as apposed to cookie cutter one like “Txt to Win”, and partner with someone who knows what they are doing/talking about.

  4. Jonathan Madnick from Mobile Ecosystems DC, May 8, 2009 at 2:38 p.m.

    "Essentially, a marketer will gain access to a list of private cell phone numbers, unbeknownst to the owners of the devices, and will send them a text message with advertisement copy."

    Who did this? I have no recollection of getting such a message with possible exception of the carrier themselves.

  5. Kevin Tynan from University of Illinois at Chicago, May 8, 2009 at 2:52 p.m.

    Not very illuminating or insightful. Is anyone surprised that consumers of any age don't want unsolicited text messages on their phone?

  6. Stephen Chukumba from Shadow Propaganda, May 8, 2009 at 3:09 p.m.

    Dude, where did you your information from? Just take a look at any of the reports issued by the Mobile Marketing Agency (or any reputable analyst) in the past 3 years and you will see the steady growth of mobile as a reliable medium for reaching Gen Y and virtually every other demographic.

    Advertising agencies and brands are announcing new and innovative mobile marketing programs virtually every day. Apple, Google and Nokia all have branded application stores to provide increasing levels of utility to an every growing audience of users.

    More importantly, mobile marketing has proven to be a hugely successful and reliable way of reaching and staying engaged with mobile users who are OPTING IN to these mobile services. There are calls to action everywhere, and people are responding in droves.

    Unlike television, whose results are always subject to interpretation, with mobile you can track granular pieces of data, and generate very specific information about user behavior and preferences. When a person opts in to a particular program, that action alone provide invaluable data about the user, which can frame the basis of future communication and dialogue between the brand and user.

    I, for one, was shocked when I read this article because much of what you propose is really quite baseless. If you're a member of Gen Y, then you really don't know your peers. If you're not, then you really don't know Gen Y.

  7. Dominick Alcid from D.C. Bar, May 8, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    SPAM texts as mobile marketing is old hat and as Joy touched upon, perhaps illegal. Of higher import, the article fails to mention the key fact that most mobile devices now connect to the internet. So it's no longer about that call-to-action in a vacuum-sealed text anymore, it's simply about linking you via that text or email to a more fulsome interactive experience right in your hand... a link to a discussion board, an invite, a facebook page, a youtube clip, a tweet, and so on. THAT'S the current step in mobile marketing and that's why it can beat trad tv every time: it engages in an instant any time, any place. --- cheers//dom

  8. Aimee Kessler evans from Blast PR, May 8, 2009 at 3:21 p.m.

    Hmmm...I'm a mobile marketing professional. I'm also an ETHICAL marketing professional. I believe in permission-based marketing. I don't buy or rent lists (although there are plenty of ethical list brokers out there); I practice opt-in marketing.

    Contrary to your article, being ethical and being a mobile marketing professional are not mutually exclusive.

    I'd like to think other agencies in our space follow best practices as stringently as we do. (In 15 years of interactive marketing, I'm happy to say I've come across surprisingly few true "spammers.")

    That said, do you really believe that a handful of spammers have ruined the channel for an entire generation? If that were true, it would imply that (a) SMS (text messaging) was the only way to market via mobile (It's not.); and that (b) ANYONE likes being spammed.

    In sum, I'm really disappointed with this article. You've done a tremendous disservice to mobile marketing with this under-researched and incredibly general piece.

  9. Donald Bartholomew from Fleishman-Hillard, May 8, 2009 at 3:47 p.m.

    As Twitter grows and matures, I believe it will become a more viable mobile marketing platform for Gen Y than text. Opt-in issues go away. There are many mobile Twitter clients. One negative might be the loss of the location-based aspects of some mobile marketing efforts. I teach an undergraduate class and the awareness, growth and use of Twitter by my students has increased exponentially just this semester.

  10. Greg Hickman, May 8, 2009 at 4:27 p.m.

    I must agree with the many of you on the information provided in this article. The companies that thought they were taking advantage of a new marketing vehicle jumped the gun by buying lists and sending unsolicited messages.

    As a mobile marketer you need to adhere to the best practices and guidelines of the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association). If you were to read the very first page you'd find a section regarding Choice & Consent. Mobile marketers must ask for and obtain consent by obtaining an explicit opt-in from a user.

    This can be accomplished many ways, however, the consent must be obtained for that specific messaging program. That consent is not carried into other programs unless the user has consented as such via the initial program or upon the start of a subsequent program.

    You can't spam SMS mobile numbers. It's un-ethical and does not adhere to the MMA guidelines, period. Mobile marketing can be extremely effective if done correctly.

    A key factor is that mobile marketing will almost NEVER succeed as it's on vehicle. It must be integrated with other media vehicles to be successful. At the end of the day it should become a component of a more comprehensive strategy which would include other mediums such as print, web etc.

    The ability to put your brand into the pockets of your consumer is extremely powerful. When done correctly, there are not many other mediums that allow for that level of interactiveness between brand and consumer.

  11. Michael Becker from MobiPraxis, May 8, 2009 at 7:18 p.m.

    I am a bit surprised by this article. It makes a number of substantiations about mobile marketing, such as:

    - it is spam, that lists of numbers are purchased to broadcast messages, messages that are primary for the purposes of advertisement
    - it is ineffective, that it is "dead"
    - it is designed to target Gen Y
    - it is not transparent
    - it relies in its ability to relay desired messages for virtually no cost to a vast number of consumers
    - that Gen Y is not responding to mobile
    - it is push instead of pull, used only for content delivery

    Mobile marketing is still young and there is much to learn about how to effectively engage our audience with the practice of mobile marketing, but the practice is certainly not dead. It is just getting started.

    Mobile marketing is the practice of communicating, delivering and exchanging value with one's audience through and with the mobile channel.

    I challenge the assertions made above, and would encourage the author to provide evidence to support them.

    Contrary to these assertions, there is mounting evidence in the industry that demonstrates the effectiveness of mobile marketing and its acceptance by consumers, evidence that is readily available via the Mobile Marketing Association (, The Direct Marketing Association (, Mobilthinking ( and Mobile Marketer ( to name just a few sources.

  12. Michael Ahearn from iLoop Mobile, Inc., May 8, 2009 at 8:45 p.m.

    The author does not understand mobile marketing and its practice by the brands, agencies and content publishers using it effectively today around the world. I am frankly surprised an article like this would be published for its lack of factual content or understanding of the subject.

    He defines mobile marketing as "Essentially, a marketer will gain access to a list of private cell phone numbers, unbeknownst to the owners of the devices, and will send them a text message with advertisement copy." This is not how mobile marketing is actually deployed in the market today. It is ALWAYS a permission based opt-in marketing channel, it is "pull", never unsolicited "push". Unsolicited messaging to end users is not only ineffective (big surprise) but illegal by the carriers and all best practices. Anyone using blind lists is not a mobile marketer. Any spamming in the mobile channel is shut down immediately by the carriers and the short code disconnected from use. Secondly, even if an end user does opt-in for a subscription to information or alerts and becomes tired of it, they can simply send STOP to the service and it will instantly and permanently stop. This information is explicitly included in every message they receive as per carrier regulations. These are carrier rules and any deviation results in the service being immediately shut down without warning. If this is not immediate "transparency and feedback" I don't know what is. See if you can do the same effectively with email spam marketing or junk mail direct marketing from a consumer's point of view. You can't say "stop" to advertising in your Web viewing or TV programming (although Tivo and DVRs are making this a reality to media buyers' chagrin). Mobile marketing is respectful to the consumer (to a fault), and Gen Y does respond to mobile marketing, it is the only marketing channel that is not shrinking.

    My suggestion to anyone interested in mobile marketing and and getting accurate information how to reach Gen Y (or any demographic for that matter) is that they consult mobile marketing professionals and agencies who practice mobile marketing. The screen Gen Y is looking at IS the mobile screen, and mobile marketing is developing into the most effective marketing channels ever, with unprecedented consumer control over the communication they receive. In return, the marketer is able to eliminate the cost of waste and deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Consumer control and compelling relevant messaging, that's mobile marketing.

  13. Michael Tennant from Vice, May 8, 2009 at 11:17 p.m.

    This article reflect very poorly on MediaPost. It reflect the same aged thinking that unfortunately is also indicative of many of the decision makers that make up the agency and brand attempts to enter any newer medium. Disappointed....

  14. Michael Tennant from Vice, May 8, 2009 at 11:18 p.m.

    This article reflects very poorly on MediaPost. It reflects the same aged thinking that unfortunately is also indicative of many of the decision makers that make up the agency and brand attempts to enter any newer medium. Disappointed....

  15. Lucretia Pruitt from Social Media Matters, May 9, 2009 at 2:39 a.m.

    Seriously? I'm not a mobile marketing practitioner and I was shaking my head at the first wrong assertion.

    I agree with the assessment that Gen Y has a negative reaction to unsolicited push marketing - but who doesn't? That's not a generational issue.

    The problem is that the author's definition of mobile marketing is flawed. "Essentially, a marketer will gain access to a list of private cell phone numbers, unbeknownst to the owners of the devices, and will send them a text message with advertisement copy" shows a complete lack of familiarity with the field.

    Opt-in mobile marketing is familiar to anyone who has ever texted a code to a number in order to "sign up" - no matter what their age or expertise.

    Oh, and just FYI? the term is "en masse" not "on-mass" for future reference.

  16. Paul Ashby, May 9, 2009 at 5:45 a.m.

    The suits come to Social Media. Now that’s the kiss of death!

    Advertising Agencies, having all but destroyed a perfectly good Old Media are set to do the same with Social Media!
    Together with Mobile Marketing!
    In the fickle world of online chatter, yesterday’s achingly fashionable meeting points are rapidly acquiring the appearance of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s’ headquarters.
    Already Twitter, becoming bogged down with fake PR tweets as well as fake advertising tweets, so much so that already the kids dismiss it as tired! And are moving on.
    As soon as the buzz of innovation starts to fade the “cool” but influential people move on quicker than you can send a tweet.
    Take Commercial Television,agencies were salivating at the prospect of commercial television and couldn't wait to get in on the act! Advertising Agencies are loath to change a medium that is to them, a money-spinner. Despite the fact that it was non-accountable.
    And now Agencies are rushing onto Social Media ignoring the fact that, as in the past, people don’t want their advertising in whatever form. The difference here is that they can easily move away from advertising, you have only to look at the experience of Second Life, that was to be advertising’s salvation. That’s why the early adopters have moved on! And be warned, they still don't know how to monitize the Internet..but we do!
    Once “The Ad Man” gatecrashes the party and corporate marketers are inevitably a long way down the adoption curve – the kudos rapidly evaporates.
    This explains why the assumed valuations of social media companies are often built on greater financial chicanery that Bernie Madoff’s tax return.
    In to-day’s market whatever supposed “next big thing” our digital culture favors in any moment faces an ever more accelerated journey to oblivion!

    Because ad agencies still don’t understand it – we will not take delivery of your commercial messages – we never have and never will!

    However we can create programs where your advertisement becomes a valuable source of information – with surprising ROI results - & there’s more.

    Read "Television Killed Advertising" it will show you how advertising has failed us and more...much more.

    It's all in my book "Television Killed Advertising" plus how clients can make their own "Social Media" environment and become very successful on the Internet. Together with the fact that you learn the real meaning of the word "communication". Want to learn more? contact me @

  17. Kevin Granath from Sportgenic, May 11, 2009 at 11:32 p.m.

    Frankly, I am shocked that the author did so little homework before writing this article. As soon as I saw the phrase "unbeknownst to the owners..." I winced thinking of the comments I was sure would be posted.

    Well-planned and executed mobile initiatives can be the connective tissue that binds all elements of a marketing plan together. A campaign's TV, radio and print ads can all have a mobile call-to-action that reinforces messaging or elicits a particular action, and loops the consumer back to an online experience. Or any variation thereof....

    For best results, however, you need to plan ahead and make sure the mobile component is integrated, and not a last-minute throw-in (as generally happens in the early stages of any new media form). Maybe that's part of the reason marketers haven't adopted mobile "on mass." ;)

  18. Kirsten Mcmullen from 4INFO, May 12, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    It's not surprising to hear that mobile spam doesn't work. Is any form of spam highly effective?
    The reality is that Gen-Y responds very well to getting content that they want on their cell phones. Marketing on this channel We have the campaign studies and data to prove it, but our results are not based on spamming cell phones with advertising.

  19. Bret Bernhoft from InsYght Consulting, May 13, 2009 at 7:11 a.m.

    As the author of this article, some of the comments are concerning to me. THERE IS NO ETHICAL MOBILE MARKETING, PERIOD! Despite the accounts of "ethical mobile" the reality is that these devices are again being used as a traditional marketing means in the effort to strangle yet another generation of consumers with garbage.

    Mobile marketing is not ethical as it stands and unless there is a fundamental change in the way mobile marketers operate there will continue to be a drag on the consumer.

    Opt in is still SPAM, and should be made illegal marketing as it is an invasion of privacy and leads to nothing advantageous for either the marketer or the consumer.


  20. Kevin Horne from Verizon, May 13, 2009 at 5:30 p.m.

    From the author's own comment:

    "Opt-in is still SPAM."

    Looks like the e-mail marketing industry didn't get that memo. (maybe because it was sent via SMS ?!?! LMAO, as the Gen Yers say....)

  21. Kirsten Mcmullen from 4INFO, May 13, 2009 at 7:10 p.m.

    The author believes per his comment that, "marketing as it is an invasion of privacy and leads to nothing advantageous for either the marketer or the consumer." Yet he works for a marketing consulting company? I am confused.

  22. Stop n text Stop n text from Stop N Text LLC, May 13, 2009 at 9:50 p.m.

    Bret eventually you will be into mobile marketing resistance is futile.

  23. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, May 14, 2009 at 9:21 a.m.

    Oh, please. Spare me the sanctimonious sputterings of Gen Y. Ooooo, rebelling against the invasive spam and using their other new media tools, such as blogs and email, to communicate to the world their disapproval and frustration? Suuuhweeeet!

    Can we do anything else for these overly pampered and fragile people? Trans fat-free breakfast delicacies? Designer dorms? God knows, we wouldn't want to invade their emotional sensibilities with anything but true "transparency and feedback."

    Which is why mobile marketers have got it all wrong. It's true, these folks cannot be communicated to in the traditional manner. They need caring and carrots rather than harsh, old world persuasion and sticks. So, give 'em what they want, what they really like. Give them games.

    Games entice rather than sell, especially if they come wrapped in the brand candy with which Gen Y consumers already have an inherent affinity -- sports, entertainment and lifestyle. Just like in today's public schools, the objective is to make it fun.

    Savvy marketers to Gen Y know that a spoonful of sugar does, indeed, make the medicine go down. Hence, traditional advertisements are being augmented by engagement vehicles of all kinds. From Burger King to Ritz crackers, brands the world over are launching advergaming initiatives.

    And why? Well, let's start with the fact that playtime for the average MMOG player (mostly Gen Y) is 20 hours per week. Thus, for advertisers who want to access the 65 million Gen Yers who own a cell phone, it's time well spent.

  24. Bret Bernhoft from InsYght Consulting, May 15, 2009 at 9:23 a.m.


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