Commentary

Glass Half-Full

Just about anyone will tell you he hates advertising. My father has been complaining about the increasing number of ads he insists are polluting prime time for twenty years now. I don't think it has shaved a minute off his viewing time. And so it comes as no surprise that in the latest Ingenio/Harris Interactive poll of mobile phone users, 68% of us who got a cell phone ad of some sort simply deleted it. The survey of over 4,000 adults found that 74% claim they most likely would ignore or delete an ad they received on a cell phone.

I think that a 74% deletion rate is actually pretty good news for mobile marketing. That means that a quarter of users are doing something else with these ads. Only 30% of mobile customers overall ever recall seeing an ad on their cell at all. Again, I think this is a good thing. Most users probably have seen or interacted with a mobile marketing campaign of some sort; they just didn't recognize it as such because it was so unobtrusive or because they opted in. What is most heartening in the Harris/Ingenio numbers is the 4% who said they later visited the advertiser's Web site from another Web connection and 2% who used their mobile browser. Another 2% clicked directly on the ad, and 1% said they called the business directly later. That is a strong response rate compared to most other marketing formats. If you can make enough of an impression on users that they remember to go to your Web site by another means later, you have registered a significant impact.

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The glass really is half-full when it comes to attitudes towards mobile marketing once you factor in the natural aversion we are supposed to have to ads. When asked about the acceptability of various kinds of mobile ads, between 74% to 84% of people in this survey rejected everything out of hand. But 35% said that sponsored text links in search results were "somewhat" or "very" acceptable. Curiously, 28% seemed to think that a ringback ad (audio played instead of a ring when calling someone else) was acceptable. The percentages went down as the ads seemed more intrusive, like pre-recorded voice mail (23% acceptable).

Those numbers are even more encouraging for marketers when we also consider the relatively low rate of data use. While 49% of mobile customers are using their phones for something other than phone calls, only 8% report general mobile Web use and 7% say they access mobile search. Mobile media still runs a distant second to the phone's natural person-to-person functionality, with 36% using it for SMS exchanges and 24% to take or share phone cam images. The opportunity for ordinary users to see ads on phones remains fairly low.

But the glass is filling rapidly. Harris/Ingenio found that 22% of mobilistias expect to be using their phones to run searches in the next three years and 19% expect to use the mobile Web. And one of the real growth opportunities may be in local search. While 42% of respondents have used 411 over a landline, 33% have used a cell phone. Among those who do use directory assistance via mobile, 29% sought a restaurant listing and 28% were looking for another service.

The marketing potential for mobile remains as promising as ever, despite the persistent top-line numbers that suggest consumer resistance. In fact, the mobile platform is a real test of marketing's ability to be so relevant that it becomes transparent. People need and want service-related information, whether it looks like an ad or a resource. My guess is that more people have seen and engaged in mobile marketing than say they recall it. That is the good news. The best mobile marketing should be that invisible.

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