Commentary

Once More Into The Brand Breach!

Last week I wrote about the opportunity mobile offers media brands to re-establish with users some of their unique equity after so many of them were commoditized on the Web. As if on cue, shards of supportive data landed on my desk shortly after posting that piece. Not only are familiar brands resisting commoditization on handsets; they may be poised to assert their cash value.

An article in Mediaweek found that a number of magazine groups such as Meredith, Condé Nast and Hachette Filipacchi will try fee-based mobile programs later this year.

 

How ironic. Back in the early days of mobile media, carriers tried to lure branded content onto the deck with the promise of revenues they couldn't get on the ad-focused Web. The old mantra used to be "people are used to paying on this platform - and we have a micropayment solution built right in." Forget the fact that carriers were asking customers to spend $2, $3 or $4 a month (a MONTH, mind you) to access horoscopes, stock quotes and truncated news items on handsets that they already got for free on the Web.

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At $12 to $15 a year, most hard copy magazine subscriptions cost you less than a full year of accessing a fraction of that content on your handset. But think of the convenience, the providers countered. The only thing convenient about that model was the fact that most of us forgot we had subscribed to this "premium" content and kept paying carriers for services we weren't even accessing. Six months later, after the wireless bill seemed to be getting unusually large, we might check our bill and find all of this dross we had collected unnecessarily.

The only convenience in this model was going the carriers' way. How convenient that customers were so absent-minded and that the deck does such a horrid job of reminding them of the content they already paid to get. Oops.

I've already argued over the prospects for making users pay for mobile content and the need for publishers to get a lot more creative in ponying up clear value adds that merit a fee.  Personally, I suspect that most of these efforts will distract content providers from the main task at hand, making a better case to advertisers of their superior value in the marketplace.

I don't think that there is much question that for news and information publishers, the ad model will remain the chief opportunity and challenge for making mobile work. For that, the brands need to extract more money from media buyers by showing they are worth it. And to do that the content providers must demonstrate that users show premium brands more attention and respect.

We are starting to see content providers make that case. Last week AP Mobile released stats that outlined its performance after a year in the market as well as a profile of its users. The mobile Web site APNews.com launched in May last year, followed soon after by the mobile app, which was one of the first news-related downloadables available in the Apple App Store. More recently, APNews started appearing on the AT&T MEdiaNet deck as well. The service combines national news (text/image/video) with consolidated content from over 1,000 local news partners. In the past year, the sites and apps have served 55 million local stories, AP claims, and it serves 39 million page views a month.

The demographics suggest that mobile news brands like AP News may succeed in reaching that generation newspapers seemed to lose. More than half (53%) are in the 18-34 segment, with men representing 78% of traffic. The typical AP News user is spending 17 minutes a month with the brand. Most traffic goes to the top stories but 21% lands in local news.

One of the most interesting usage statistics involves traffic consistency. The weekly activity at APNews is remarkably even throughout the week. Monday and Tuesday represent the biggest relative bumps, with about 17% of weekly traffic coming on each day, but even the weekends are quite steady. Through the day as well, the level of activity to the content is the same from about 8 a.m. to midnight, with one slight bump at 11 p.m.

The special value of brands on the handset is an argument that media will need to make with advertisers in order to secure the kinds of ad rates necessary to support the platform. For instance, recent and widely recirculated stats from Pinch Media argued that the overwhelming majority of downloadable apps are easily and quickly forgotten and discarded after a short time. This may well be true for the thousands of intrinsically disposable widgets and gadgets we find in the Apple and Android stores now. After all, how many times can you use the Napoleon Dynamite Soundboard -- JEEZ!

But when I ask many media brands about this new conventional wisdom regarding application re-use, they recoil. "We're not seeing that type of behavior," says Jeff Litvack, AP's general manager, mobile and emerging products. "Our app is sticky and with a solid audience. We are seeing heavy repeat use. Our ratio of download to usage is well over 70%."

And these are the types of metrics media brands will need to distinguish themselves in an app and mobile Web ecosystem that is about to become as cluttered and diverse as the Web. Consider that Litvack offers a lament about mobile advertising that echoes the ongoing arguments over inventory value we hear on the Web. "I think what is problematic for premium brands is that ad networks are driving down CPMs to levels that will not support the mobile operations necessary to deliver high quality content," he says. "We are in the process of distinguishing ourselves with different ad units and direct call-to-action types of experiences that go beyond today's mobile banner and will deliver the premium experience and return for advertisers and publishers alike."

While much of the mobile marketing industry continues to defend and argue the effectiveness of mobile as a platform, we are starting to see the next stage emerge. As the app marketplaces fill with clutter and every Web brand also has a m.XXX.com or .mobi complement, look for the premium brands to make their own stand. Let the games begin.

1 comment about "Once More Into The Brand Breach!".
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  1. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, May 27, 2009 at 11:03 a.m.

    Let the games begin is exactly right. With little hard evidence that utility apps are either compelling or enduring enough to the kind of advertising necessary to sustain them, gaming is the clearest path forward for mobile marketers.

    Hey, let's get real, here. No one really wants Cheerios, Barbie apps or banner-based direct call-to-action types of experiences. These are just the annoying detritus of a mobile marketing industry that has yet to come to terms with the reality of its medium.

    Whatever marketing experience you toss into the consumer cage, it's got to be easy, disposable, and most of all, fun, if you want the consumers in there to swallow it.

    Yesterday, a colleague with whom I was meeting wanted to know if the Cavaliers had won the previous night's basketball game. Between our two Blackberrys, it took us almost 10 minutes to find out.

    Convenient, useful? Yeah, right. About as helpful as repeatedly looking away from the highway to gaze down at the mobile GPS to see exactly where you're going ... just before ramming into the back of the semi dead ahead. Memo to marketers with recurrent senior moments of displaced cultural perception: it's a disposable world out there. Cop 'n' drop.

    Small wonder, then, that games, particularly of the casual persuasion, have established such a strong presence on the cultural landscape. Kind of like Rome gone digital, they reflect who we are and what we want. So, mobile marketers, I say to you, when in Rome ... 'nuf said, you know the rest.

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