Mobile's Killer App

On my drive to the airport today, I thought about the column I planned to write on how to sell the value of branding in a performance-driven market. The techniques I share in my seminars were going to land in this space for anyone interested in obtaining greater value for the audience attention they sell.

As I thought through my pending words in the back seat, the driver from the car service I use crossed over the Triborough Bridge and headed toward Kennedy. While on the bridge, his head drifted down to his cell phone, his right hand slipped from the wheel and he attempted to make a call. We had not conversed much up until that point, so he was taken aback when I abruptly asked him to stop using his phone. He glared at me through his rear view mirror as if I were the problem.

Not more than two minutes later, I noticed a black Audi to our right swerving dangerously close to our car. I peered in and saw a well-dressed driver feverishly typing as his head bopped up and down between the road and his handheld device, never recognizing how closely his car was veering toward ours.



Being forced to listen to someone's cell phone conversation while standing next to them in an airport security line may feel like torture, but it's not life-threatening. Watching people pound away on their BlackBerry while you talk to them may kill your self-esteem, but it's not life-threatening. Dialing cell phones, sending text messages, or responding to emails on mobile devices while driving is killing thousands of people every year -- and as a medium, we could not care less.

We promote mobile as the next "it" in advertising without an ounce of responsibility for the obvious reckless behavior occurring before our eyes and on our roads. Of course it's illegal in states like New York and California to talk on cell phone without a hands-free device while driving, but that's not nearly a strong enough deterrent.

No lives are at risk while watching television, reading a magazine or surfing the Web on your computer. And changing stations on your car radio takes a fraction of the attention it takes to make a call, or respond to a text message or email. Walking while talking or typing on a mobile device looks odd, but does not put anyone a split second away from a catastrophic event. But we all know and choose to ignore that the mobility we created with these handheld devices are feeding consumers addiction to connectivity, and that a majority of usage occurs while consumers' hands should be on the wheel and their eyes and attention on the road.

My former boss Frank Smith taught me the age-old lesson that you should not call out a problem without offering up a potential solution. So I will take the heat and the ridicule from some of you reading, by offering this solution on how to stop this madness: Advertisers should boycott all spending on mobile devices until the hardware manufacturers, the software developers and/or the content providers, develop a technology preventing the use of a mobile device by anyone operating a moving vehicle.

And before you start attacking my solution with comparisons to other platforms that endanger the lives of others, or suggest that "guns don't kill, people do" -- keep in mind that two wrongs have never made a right, and no one will lose their jobs or their families if they were suddenly unable to communicate from the front seat of their cars. But in an instant, children can become fatherless and careers meaningless by the use of these handheld devices we so ignorantly proclaim as the future of our industry, while ignoring the truth of when these devices are most often used.

We have so lost our way with this one. It's going to take the absurd and abrupt halt of advertising revenue to force the mobile sector to own up to the blood on their hands, the deaths that pile up on their watch.

Advertisers, do you collectively have the guts and the conscience to band together to kill this platform, until those profiting from the mobile platform can collaboratively figure out how to prevent killing the very consumers you aim to reach?

18 comments about "Mobile's Killer App".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Michael Spitz, May 28, 2009 at 1:49 p.m.

    Ari: This was great, daring and necessary. I don't think that many people in the industry would have the cohones to post it, let alone concern themselves with it, particularly if their bread is buttered with revenue from mobile advertising/marketing.

    However: My additional thought should be obvious....Isn't it texting during driving/machinery operation the true culprit for the tragedies you mention?
    Hard stats, if available, would probably bear this out...

    The "gun" metaphor is well applied but, don't hold your breath about any "boycott". It's probably the mobile phone manufacturers that have the biggest responsibility in the clever implementation of the safety you suggest, I would think...since clearly, we are now so attached or even, addicted to our mobile phones and the immediate urge to respond quickly via texting.....

    --Michael Spitz

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, May 28, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    Right diagnosis, wrong prescription. As Michael Spitz points out, it's just as likely texting or sending remote emails. It's the device that is creating the reckless behavior (or our addiction to the device). A bold solution is required. I too am tired, and scared, of people who think they can drive and text or read or email.

    (ps I stole the "right diagnosis, wrong prescription" lead)

  3. Warren Lee from WHL Consulting, May 28, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    Great article. Thanks for sticking your head out and asking for a bold solution. I like your thinking, but not your solution. However, you have put out a reasonable call to action and I am sure that someone smarter then us is right now calling his/her patent attorney with their solution to this problem. The issue, I think, is proximity of the mobile device to the steering wheel of the vehicle, not only in cars, but trains, buses and trolleys as well. Perhaps car manufacturers need to put a devise into the steering wheels and the device manufacturers need to put in a device that is able to communicate with that device and render the texting functions inoperable based on proximity to the steering wheel. Now where is my attorney!?!

  4. Ron Barr from Consulting, May 28, 2009 at 2:17 p.m.

    There are solutions out there now; is one example. I can send text messages by calling jott and speaking my message, and I can have my emails and texts read to me as I drive. There are competitors that do similar things.

    Adoption of these technologies is slow, but it is where we'll be going.

    Advertisers have no motivation for a boycott. This is one of those things the government has to lead.

  5. Neil Squillante from PeerViews Inc., May 28, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.

    Great essay as usual Ari. Just a reminder that in New York at least you have a right to a noise-free taxi ride so even when the driver is using a hands-free device I ask them to hang up.

    Your solution is interesting but there's a better, more realistic one. Instead of the pipe dream CAFE regulations recently announced, how about mandating hands-free Bluetooth technology in every car as standard equipment?

  6. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, May 28, 2009 at 2:23 p.m.

    The culprits fall into two broad categories: Businesspeople who are too cheap to get hands free in their vehicles, or those who are stuck in a rental without hands free; and teens whose attention spans for the road have never been as good as they are for any number of other distractions while driving.

    As responsible businesspeople perhaps we should, on occasion at least, behave responsibly and turn the cell phone off while in the car. Teenagers will continue to kill themselves at an alarming rate behind the wheel with or without cellphones; and in fact I recall a statistic that says 26% of car accidents occur because a driver is asleep at the wheel, and according to various advocacy groups a far higher percentage of accidents are due to the effects of alcohol or the influence of drugs.

    How many more accidents are there per capita now than in the 80s before cellphones invaded the driver's seat?

    To further play devil's advocate, how many customers do fast food joints kill because people are eating and driving at the same time?

    Statistics sometimes lend credence to a gut feeling, but at other times they cast doubt that one's individual experience is reflective of the statistical median. I don't buy that "when these devices are most often used" is in the car for the average person or even the average buinessperson.

    Not disagreeing; just wanting to delve in deeper with better math to back up the assertions.

  7. Robert Moss, May 28, 2009 at 2:29 p.m.

    The technology exists to do this. Tie the movement of the device to an app (such as its built-in GPS or even the code behind iPhoneSaber) to a lock. For people riding in a vehicle and not driving, the lock could be manually turned off entering a randomly generated code.

    People could cheat and enter the unlocking code while driving, but adding a level of difficulty creates a road block. Of course, stiffer penalties for texting while driving would help. Additionally, texting while driving should be made as socially unacceptable as trying to bring a loaded gun on to an airplane. Where’s the PSA?

  8. Kelley Houlihan, May 28, 2009 at 2:50 p.m.

    The way I see it, this is not unlike saying that bars and restaurants should stop selling alcohol to patrons until society can completely control/stop driving under the influence...

  9. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, May 28, 2009 at 3:07 p.m.

    Great discussion - BUT you WEAR the "device" and accesories as needed - c'mon people, wanna talk about it more? - We'll have it to you soon.

  10. Lorna Lyle from TMC, May 28, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    Bravo, Ari and Kudos, Monica. I heard news today from a NYC radio station about a push for harsher penalties for "driving while distracted," which includes texting, cell-phone usage (hands-on), and even eating. Too much of this behavior stems from people viewing driving as a right, not a privilege and responsibility.

    I agree that the proposed solution, while daring, won't work for the various reasons in others' comments.

    BTW Ari, the Triborough Bridge is now the RFK bridge.

  11. Jim Palam from Jim Palam & Partners, May 28, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

    Thank you Ari, for having the guts to publicly address this deadly issue.

    It's obvious to me here in California that the laws regarding cell phone use while driving are being broken--and that a solution to this problem will need to be very clever indeed. Heck, we can't even get drivers to use their blinker when changing lanes.

    Actually, I blame Nike and their "Just Do It" mantra for inadvertently creating a narcissistic nation hell-bent on doing whatever they want to do with no regard for anyone else.

    Maybe we can start small with bumper stickers that simply say "Shut Up and Drive?"

  12. Jamie Wells from Amazon, May 28, 2009 at 4:18 p.m.

    Perhaps advertisers should boycott all spending on MediaPost until a technology is developed to protect consumers from anything that might harm them, real or imagined, in this or any universe, in perpetuity.

    I kid... but seriously? Talk about bringing a gun to a knife fight... a boycott more like going nuclear on a teenage bully. How about a little personal responsibility here? Technology is not a substitute for basic human decency!

    Also, you seem way off the mark. The mobile applications you describe (voice, sms) are dominated by P2P use cases, and barely (if at all) ad supported. Furthermore, mobile carrier and OEM revenues are barely impacted by on-device advertising dollars... meaning that carriers might not even notice if advertisers "boycotted" mobile.

    Your heart's in the right place... but the rest of you, that's another story altogether.

  13. Jack Loechner from Mediapost Communications, May 28, 2009 at 6:17 p.m.

    see the Research Brief next week on Thursday, Ari, for some metrics re: the prevalence of this activity! jack

  14. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 28, 2009 at 10:45 p.m.

    Raising this very serious issue is what drove my column today. My solution I offered is completely off the wall -- I mean seriously, why would advertisers take a collective stand to help solve a problem they did not create in an effort to help improve the world they market to.

    Sometimes things you throw against a wall stick.

    Thanks, as always, for spending time with my column and offering such insightful feedback.


  15. Hugh Simpson from WOW! Presentation, May 29, 2009 at 1:05 a.m.

    BRILLIANT solution and I plan to Tweet this to my readers!


  16. Christine Horn from Caperion, Inc., May 29, 2009 at 10:12 a.m.

    Thank you for taking a stand!

  17. Robert Moss, May 29, 2009 at 2:43 p.m.

    While an advertiser-led boycott of mobile devices in not a practical solution, there’s an obvious need for something to be done about people texting while driving. You’d think common sense would have won out by now, but natural selection still has a long way to go. And unfortunately there’s enough idiots, neanderthals and young people who think they’re immortal who are willing to risk the lives of us more sensible folk.

    An article in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor released the results from a study conducted by Vlingo Corp., a Cambridge, Mass., company that develops speech-recognition technology for mobile phones. It said that more than 26 percent of some 4,800 cellphone users surveyed across the United States admitted they had sent text messages while driving. The worst state was Tennessee, where 42 percent of those surveyed said they had texted while driving. Yet 83 percent said texting while driving should be illegal. The study also found that 58 percent of teenagers did it, as did 49 percent of those aged 20 to 29. A little more than 13 percent of those aged 50-59 did so, too. Go to for the full story.

    Back to my rant.

    As it took a law to persuade car makers to install seatbelts, we’re probably going to need one to get mobile manufacturers to include motion-detecting locks in their devices. This would greatly reduce the instances of people texting while driving. Reduce, not entirely eliminate.

    I mentioned in my comment below that the technology already exists. Simply associate the movement of the device to a lock. It could be GPS-based or something like the iPhoneSaber app (I’ll never scoff at geeky iPhone apps again). Passengers could unlock the device by entering a randomly generated number in order to text while riding. Of course some drivers will cheat and unlock the device. But, as I said earlier, a level of difficulty creates a road block. The law could also make unlocking the device while driving a crime, as well as hacking a device to completely remove the lock on par with disabling a smoke detector in an airplane lavatory.

    California made it a crime to text while driving as of January 1, 2009. A whopping $20 fine for a first offense and a $50 fine for any subsequent violation. That’s not exactly going to prevent people who pay far more than that each month for their device plan to stop texting from behind the wheel. It’s illegal to text while driving in 7 states and Washington DC, and Illinois and Massachusetts will soon follow. But I’ve yet to hear of a law that would direct mobile manufacturers to build safer devices. If it took a law to get the car companies to do it, it will probably take the same with mobile devices. Which means if this is an issue you care about, contact your congressman and senator. Don’t know who they are or where to get hold of them? Go to

  18. Kevin Mcfall from Red Clay Digital, May 29, 2009 at 3:13 p.m.

    Hollywood's "Seven Pounds" - the movie starring Will Smith also goes a long way in substantiating why this is truly an issue that warrants this subject be brought to the forefront. Kudos to Ari for using this platform to elevate the issue and to invoke hard hitting thought and discussion around a simple yet deadly behavior that should be changed by all.

Next story loading loading..