Jacking Into Moments: Conquesting, User Modding And The Ongoing Disconnect About Mobility

Conquesting has always been a mainstay of advertising, but digital media gave it a new spin. Bidding against rival keywords on search or vertical product research sites has been de rigeur for a decade or more. Nothing feeds the machismo instincts of marketing warfare better than a well-won conquest.

Throw in the location targeting and multimedia capabilities of a mobile handset, however, and you get a new level of poaching and the need for brands to defend their airspace…literally. Over in the UK, for instance, one advertiser inadvertently hijacked users of a phone audio recognition app, Shazam, that may have been trying to tag songs playing in competitors’ TV spots. Shazam is the popular app that recognizes a song and (and select ads themselves) and renders information about the tune and an opportunity to buy it. According to the UK’s Marketing Magazine, the UK retailer John Lewis bought banner ads to drive downloads of an app that reinforced their own TV spots featuring Mony the penguin. It turns out that the the banner was showing up in Shazam whenever people were tagging any song, including the Julie London “Fly Me To The Moon” ditty used by rival Marks & Spencer and Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus’s “We All Stand Together,” used in Debenhams adverts.

John Lewis’ agency OMD and Shazam both say that poaching was never the intention of the media buy, but the ad just happened to appear adjacent to tracks that were rising in popularity because of the TV spots. They are taking the ads off of competitors’ TV themes.

Of course, Shazam is quick to point out how this demonstrates that brands need to think as defensively about new forms of search, like audio, as they have about search. These are not inconsequential direct engagements either. According to the report, 20,000 people have deliberately Shazamed the tune used in John Lewis’s advert.

But the prospect of poaching users through mobile intercepts like audio recognition is just one port of a larger air war that mobility invites. Poaching is already a common part of geotargeted advertising. Car dealers, QSRs, and other local merchants routinely target people who are near competing stores with mobile advertising. One local mobile vendor, Verve, did a study last year of so-called “Geo-conquesting” to show that it led to 30% higher clickthrough on mobile ads than standard conversions for geo-fenced campaigns.

A similar dynamic is about to take shape at a shopping mall near you. The retail space is already cluttered with so many players trying to control the air space near stores, that some manufacturers and some retailers are sitting back and waiting to see how this shakes out. You have third-party apps like Shopkick that partner with select retailers, couponers like RetailMeNot, shopping list apps, mall apps, and then of course the true interlopers like Amazon and eBay that want to poach the purchase right out from retailers in the middle of aisle 3. All of these forces are vying for the attention of the consumer as she approaches point of sale.

With mobility comes a shift in the terrain on which the marketing battle for hearts and mindshare is waged. Now it is a battle over habits, the rituals of shopping and the ways in which people elect to integrate personal devices with everyday life. It is natural for the shopping, retailer and media apps to vie for our attention and use. What else are they going to do when faced with such a rapid migration of consumer activity to devices? But there is still that hurdle of getting consumers to elect to use their devices in ways that marketers want them to.

I think there is a big difference between the casual and fully elective ways in which people use their phones while shopping or watching TV and marketers’ attempts to channel these behaviors into their own apps and pathways. Beacon frenzy is the latest example. Sure, we want to get shoppers to crack open their devices and let us beam them content, offers, and pathways in-store. In an ideal marketer’s wet dream we will all be walking through stores with handsets before our eyes as they guide us to where the marketer wants us to be or seduces us with lustrous prose into buying that widget before us on the shelf. But each of us has our own personal style and ritual of perusing aisles. We are in the store mainly because of the unique value or experience of real world shopping. Yes, we will pop out our cell phone as needed and when compelled by a personal need for more information. But it is entirely another matter to have external entities, like the store itself, try to routinize the experience via a second screen.

I use the first wave of second-screen TV apps as a precedent that the Beacon-crazed might take as a teachable moment. We already know that people are using their handsets and tablets for a wide range of things unrelated to TV while they watch each evening. The original second-screen apps tried to capture this energy in their own apps that tethered the user to a given show with heightened interactivity and enhancements. It turns out a very small slice of mobile users wanted such an enhanced but narrow and limited experience. My theory is that one of the core principles of mobility is empowerment and freedom. The user’s total control over the media experience and the personal identification with the device are among the reasons that I think mobile has captivated us so deeply. This marketers’ impulse to change or bend consumer behavior to their will was never a good idea even before personalized media. We keep trying to lull, lure, tempt, and pester consumers into using phones in ways that marketers crave without understanding just how personal “personal” means when playing on this field.

What is the alternative? I am not sure myself. But it seems to me increasingly clear that treating mobile as yet another in a long line of media platforms on which we channel customer behavior is missing a point about mobility that the consumers themselves grasped long ago.   

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