Mobile: Overhyped, Underutilized

LOS ANGELES--Mobile marketing today is comparable to e-mail marketing in 1999--"perhaps overhyped, but simultaneously underutilized." That's according to David LaPlante, CEO of relationship and messaging marketing company Twelve Horses, who spoke about the emerging mobile marketing channel at OMMA Hollywood Conference & Expo Monday.

Mobile marketing--or sending short text messages to people's cell phones, usually directing them to Web sites--is getting the nod from U.S. consumers, particularly those younger than 44, but the pace of acceptance has been sluggish at times, LaPlante said.

Consumer acceptance is just one challenge faced by mobile marketers, said LaPlante and fellow speaker Josh Newman, vice president, business development and sales for mobile sweepstakes and promotions company Limbo. Other hurdles include long lead times imposed by phone companies that power wireless service, as well as the expense of renting short codes--the 5-digit numbers that consumers type in their cell phones to interact with marketers.

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Mobile campaigns require a minimum lead time of 12 to 16 weeks, LaPlante told the audience--a requirement that some large brands wrongly assume doesn't apply to them. "Don't expect things to happen fast," LaPlante warned, adding that even the largest marketers can't bypass the carriers' red tape.

Also, carriers strictly police cell phone marketing, in hopes of both keeping spam at bay and avoiding consumer complaints; campaigns for any products related to alcohol, gambling, or pornography are likely to trigger especially close scrutiny, said Newman.

Companies cannot send any marketing messages via mobile devices unless consumers have first opted to receive messages; what's more, consumers must opt-in with a mobile device or online. In practical terms, mobile campaigns first involve asking consumers to type in a short code--five digits that the company has leased--that will take consumers to a Web site where they can opt-in to receive more messages, both by phone and e-mail.

The process can be significantly more expensive than e-mail marketing, because renting customized short codes costs $1,000 a month, while random short codes costs $500 a month--and the clock starts ticking the moment the company leases the code, Newman said.

Another hurdle for mobile marketing is that the campaigns must be supported by other media efforts directing consumers to type in the short code. If those other efforts fail, so will the campaign.

LaPlante discussed a mobile campaign for Reno-Tahoe ski resorts that fell flat until the company started using podcasts to promote the text campaign. The prior efforts, which focused on print, cable, and radio, barely made a dent; at one point, a cable spot appeared to result in just 49 opt-ins. But the podcast resulted in more than 1,000.

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