Did The UK Telcos Just Throw In The Towel On Mobile Marketing?

Did the UK telcos just hold out and wave a white flag for the US tech giants to carry on taking over? That's kind of what it feels like as the shutters are pulled up on Weve.

The mobile advertising network once included O2, Vodafone and EE, but O2 bought out its partners a couple of years ago, making Weve an O2 product. The idea remained that an operator would hold a bunch of first-party data for those subscribers who had signed up to share it. This data would include location, and so would prove invaluable in steering people to local offers.

One can imagine that it didn't exactly work as planned, given the fact that Weve had lost top people over the past couple of years and is now finally shutting down.

The idea of taking on the tech giants seemed a noble cause, but it misses a point. The tech giants are largely based around pushing out messages based on what someone's online behaviour shows they are interested in -- or at least what the title of the site they are visiting suggests they are into. It demonstrably works because, after all, they are the tech giants. People tell them a lot about themselves through their browsing, and that data is sold on to make advertising more relevant.

As far as the mobile phone operators are concerned, the public isn't looking to them for advertising. Obviously, being part of an O2 Rewards club, or similar, is useful for getting money off a coffee -- but the day-to-day display we see on our devices, do we really expect our call history and other data to inform those advertising decisions? Sounds a little bit spooky, doesn't it?

Being targeted for shoes because you have been shopping for a new pair of trainers and may have searched for them is one thing. Having your phone habits used to steer advertising is another. And to be frank, what do the phone operators know about their customers that is truly useful for real-time digital marketing? Whom I call and for how long has little to do with what I am "in-market" for. Location is probably the most useful of the data sets the networks may have at their disposal, but it must be backed up by some prior knowledge or interest in a brand, perhaps an offer, to make it of any use.

That is why Weve is widely seen as having never really got off the ground and was normally regarded as a sender of text message offers rather than the mobile marketing powerhouse it wanted to be. 

I have to be honest -- and I don't know about you -- but I had pretty much forgotten the name until I saw today's announcement. It marks the end of a chapter in which the telcos thought their relationship with the subscriber would mean they have an "in" on digital marketing. They may still, most likely around loyalty schemes and discounts, the long-term campaigns that can match their users with other brands. 

As far as digital marketing goes, however, they demonstrably don't have what it takes, and the tech giants and publishers most certainly do. They know what sites we visit, they know our interests and we're willing to share our data with them for more relevant advertising. That is, of course, the four in five of us who don't use ad blockers. 

The public tolerates this relationship, on the whole, but I don't think they would like their call usage and account details being used to target advertising to them. Although the data wouldn't be as useful as our online surfing behaviour, it just kind of feels a little bit off. We pay the likes of O2 to keep us connected, not to use our account info to follow us around with ads that tap into where we happen to be at any one time. 

The proof? The UK telco giants took on the tech giants. Today, the last one standing has thrown in the towel. 

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