For the last five years or so we've heard that "Mobile will mature into a viable consumer platform within the next three years." It's sort of like a sign I saw once in a bar in Truckee that says, "Free Beer Tomorrow"; needless to say, tomorrow never comes, and the reader is always looking into the future for that day!
Mobile is a true medium in other countries where young audiences watch video content, interact with one another and accept that they will be interrupted with ads in one way or another at some point during the day. The U.S. certainly lags behind other markets for many reasons, but ultimately I'm still concerned that people are expecting too much and creating ideas that are not viable no matter how progressive of a medium mobile will inevitably turn into! In order for us to determine when and how mobile will become a true advertising-capable medium, let's think about some of the basic principles that face the platform, and the opportunity for consumers to engage with content, and thereby advertising.
1. Mobile is a consumer-pull medium. This means consumers are 100% in control of when they use the device and when they choose to interact with content. Thus, the traditional models of broadcast do not work, and advertising messages cannot be broadcast via SMS -- and if they time-sensitive, they may not be too effective. For the platform to work, our advertising must be relevant to the consumer's needs, less intrusive in order not to adversely affect the perception of the brand in the consumer's mind. If a consumer's experience is intruded upon by an advertisement in a self-selected situation where the consumer is opting in to view content, ads must be targeted, they cannot be broad, and they cannot require immediate action, like clicking.
2. Mobile is a personal medium, not to be shared with a small or large group; therefore mobile advertising needs to be one-to-one. This is similar to point one; the ads cannot be mass-targeted. They must be focused on that user. Advertisers should not enter into the mobile platform with half-baked ideas targeted at large audiences. They need to find ways to tailor the message to the consumer, though not in a way that is "big-brother-esque." They need to find a happy medium.
3. Which brings us to a simple fact: Mobile technology sort of sucks! With the exception of the iPhone interface and possibly whatever interface Google is working on, the chance to interact with content is very poor, not something that many consumers are willing to do. I am not a patient man in general, but when I play "Bejeweled" on the iPhone, I want to be able to save my score. I also want to play the game at a faster-than-dial-up speed. Moving the jewels takes immeasurably longer than it does on the Treo version. The technology needs to get better and the access speeds need to be faster. Forget about watching video streamed to my phone... The AT&T network is one of the poorest networks, and yet it has what is supposed to be the most innovative phone. Go figure that one out! It's like buying a Ferrari and having a governor on the engine so you can only go 35 miles per hour. That just ain't fair.
4. Which brings us to the last point: We need some standards to be adopted, and fast! The idea that Verizon is opening its network to other phones is great, along with the fact that Google may implement some game-changing ideas in the next year or so. But overall, we need a standard. I am not against the government imposing a standard here, because the carriers will never get it together! They need to come up with one access model, one pricing model, one format for building in this environment (WAP or no WAP), and they need to adopt a set of user experience rules that would level the playing field for the carriers and the companies creating the operating systems -- and then open the system to let consumers create apps in the same way the PC environment is open. Then we would see true innovation, and come closer to realizing the potential of the medium.
Of course, none of this will happen in 2008, so it's safe to say that "Mobile is sill three years away from becoming a viable advertising platform." Again.