OMMA Mobile L.A.: Strike Up The Brands

"You're going to L.A.?" I can hear my daughter cooking up the phony indignation. "Without me? Where was the memo on this?"


Actually, it is all a dodge. She has known of the trip for months. And anyway, my journey westward for Thursday's OMMA Mobile event will make her week. The overprotective worrier in the tag-team of "helicopters" she calls her parents will be off-radar for a few days. It is easier to maneuver past one sentry than two. Before previous trips, she's been known to hand me my laptop case and ask, "Why don't you call the shuttle service? They should have been here by now." Mock shock over me going to L.A. means she is up to something. I just haven't figured out what it is yet. 

And this week, at least,  I will be distracted by a show that I myself am excited to see. Our mobilistas will convene on Thursday in L.A. at a unique moment in mobile marketing.

Talk of "tipping points" and "critical mass" when it comes to mobile seem jejune by now. As I think the title and theme of the show suggest -- "Digital Goes 3D: the Next Dimension Will Be Mobilized" -- this platform is on the verge of reimagining marketing as we have known it. One of the themes I have been exploring in these columns throughout the year is getting beyond the flat notion that mobile merely "extends" campaigns, media or marketing. It actually redefines the relationship brands, marketers and media have with their customers -- if we let it.

Look at ESPN. The sports media Goliath recently announced that traffic to its mobile Web site increased over 80% in the last year, with some individual days piling up 8 million or more visits. Its multiple score trackers and fantasy league apps have managed to do what many Web sites only aspired to do for years: customize and focus the digital experience for consumers with content that is so highly targeted and relevant to their passions that it is much more than media "extended" to another platform. This is media as a service. How timely and fitting that we kick off the Thursday conference with a keynote from John Zehr, senior vice president/general manager of ESPN Mobile, speaking directly to this notion that mobile creates a persistent "connection" to the consumer.

The extra dimension that mobile taps is being realized this year -- especially by brand marketers. When it comes to emerging platforms like mobile, it is hard to get one brand executive to discuss strategic thinking for an ever-evolving new technology, so I'm happy to report that at OMMA Mobile we'll have four of them. In our opening panel, "The Brand's Eye View," we have assembled marketing pros from four very different product categories: Kodak, Benjamin Moore, Paramount and EZLube. We will be coming at the platform from a host of different brand goals, but the overall theme is how mobile allows brands to partner with consumers.

In our agency panel, we get beyond the usual discussions of mobile's place in the agency structure ("is it at the table yet, yadda, yadda"), and explore how mobile offers marketers multiple platforms. How are agencies mapping SMS, display, apps, IVR, etc. against the goals of clients? Mobile is not just one platform. It is a convergence device where all the platforms we have been cultivating for over a century finally come together. How do you triage the opportunities and imagine new ones?

A persistent theme of this show is that mobile media have advanced to their next stage, where marketers now have the opportunity to make direct and multifarious connections with customers. No one I know has been pounding home this point longer and harder than Isobar's legendary vice president of mobile services, Gene Keenan. After all of these years evangelizing and innovating in the pre-historic years of mobile, Gene is ready to declare, in our second keynote of the day, that the real age of mobile has begun. He will be bringing in unique data about how branded Web sites have seen "hockey stick" growth in users, especially from smart phones. The direct connection to brands is being made via mobile, and many brands don't even know it yet.

And we end the morning with a brewing controversy over the mobile ad networks. Are we seeing some of the same dynamics and complaints emerge in mobile that we have been seeing on the Web: commoditization, channel conflict and not-so-blind networks, etc. Of course, mobile ad networks evolved very differently from their online cousins, but are they devolving into some familiar old practices? For an upcoming feature piece for OMMA magazine, I interviewed representatives from the publishing, network and media buying sides of this discussion -- and it seems we are only at the beginning of a noisy shakeout in this arena. I know that everyone on this panel come to it with strong views, so I am hoping for a session that will clarify and define the lines of argument, if not resolve anything.

In the afternoon we follow our usual course in the OMMA shows and start drilling into particulars: how mobile is adding dimension to location-based services, the retail channel, and L.A.'s hometown entertainment industry. Our kicker session, "Up Your App," is designed to scratch beneath the current "app fever" and ask the heretical question: Are apps actually a fad?

So this show really is about taking that next step in mobile, beyond the familiar media buy and mobile "complement." As I think a number of the panels and keynoters will show throughout the day, brands really are starting to take notice of mobile, and not because they see another place they "have to be," or as another budget line to add. The next dimension of marketing is going to be less about simply buying media and communications channels but more about, as John Zehr says, making "connections." Mobile, by its very nature as a one-to-one connection device, already occupies the dimension many brands are hoping to enter. 

"Oh, look, a cast-off iPhone. What are you doing with that?" It was only a matter of time before my daughter cashed in the false hurt she had banked earlier in the day. She found the old 3G model I had replaced this summer with the 3Gs. "Well, if I can't come to the mobile show, then at least let me play with some apps on the old iPhone." I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out the math on these emotional equations my daughter crafts and jerry-rigs in her favor. I have never understood how the two sides of the equal sign even deserve to be in the same line. The upshot is that we are about to see what happens when you let a teen girl loose in an app store.

 "Look," she blurts after a solid hour of downloading. Little did I know that this negligent dad had been leaving his daughter "seriously app-deprived" all this time. She shows me a video app of a cute dog licking your iPhone display: "It's a screen cleaner."

 Next time: Girl Meets App

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