Pop Quiz

In a previous life, before the dotcom era, I was a two-corduroy-jacket academic. Oh, I was bad. I smoked a pipe. I filled sentences with theoretical jargon that included enough "post-something or others" and "isms" to glaze the eyes of the most stalwart grad students. I spent hour-long classes dissecting the cultural import of 15-second TV ads. In the wonderful Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando vehicle "The Freshman" there is a silly NYU film school professor who worships Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" and puts every frame under the lens of self-important critical scrutiny. I pretty much was that guy.

Now that I have gone from hopelessly un-socialized academic geek to, well, hopelessly un-socialized media geek, I dip back into the classroom from time to time. You miss the gum-snapping sorority sisters, sleeping jocks, frantic clock-watchers and the field of disinterested stares. Being in front of a college class is a lot like being a parent at the dinner table with 30 of your teenage children. And so when I was doing a guest lecture and Q&A the other day with a room of college students, I asked them about their own tech use. Lesson No. 1: Apple has got it made. More than a third of the students I asked own Macs rather than PCs, and most were aware that Steve Jobs was delivering a keynote today that could reveal more cool tech. That is branding.



In answer to another question, I was surprised to see so little mobile Web use. Most of these kids talk and text, and they rarely venture out to WAP sites or access other kinds of applications. The latest spot check of mobile usage released today by M:Metrics bears some of this out. In the U.S. especially, it is best to keep our hopes and impressions separate from the reality: the adoption of mobile media here is a slow growth curve, not a spike.

Last month Deloitte published much rosier research about mobile media penetration. Many of us in the mobile world questioned the levels of mobile entertainment adoption Deloitte claimed (28% of youth watching UGC video on phones?). But the trajectory between the company's first and second surveys seemed very promising.

M:Metrics, which arguably has a bit more experience and tracking data on mobile usage, gives us a welcome reality check on the overall penetration rates for mobile media. Based on a three-month average ending in November, only 12.6% of mobile customers accessed the mobile Web. To be sure, this does represent over 26 million pairs of eyeballs, but that number embraces regular users as well as infrequent visitors. Last year, the WAP access penetration usually tracked at around 10%, so we are seeing steady movement but not tectonic changes.

Social networking, another category that attracts a lot of VC and press interest, is only attracting 3.6% of actual users, however. Despite the proliferation of music-capable phones, and of course the iPhone, music listening on cell phones is only at 5.7%. And game playing on mobile still occupies less than 10% of us (9.1%). Of all the media tasks on a phone, the person-to-person function of sending or receiving photos (20.5%) remains the most popular.

Mobile being mobile, even small percentages translate to hearty raw numbers. While only 4.2% of users watched video on their phones, that amounts to 9.3 million people. Even though ringtone purchasing seems to be peaking around the world, 21.2 million Americans still feel the need to irritate the rest of us with their poor musical taste. Sorry, that was a bit of the old professor leaking out.

Of course the lesson is -- learned again and again every time we take a serious look at reliable mobile metrics -- that first and foremost, to most Americans IT'S A PHONE, DAMMIT. Unlike most other platforms, where consuming media is the main point for turning the device on, mobile media will always be creeping in around and between the person-to-person activity that remains the platform's core value to most of us.

Again, I know that this is reviewing previous chapters in the text, but I think it bears revisiting (because it will be on the final exam). The best mobile media and marketing I think will replicate or complement the person-to-person functionality that defines the medium. The most welcome brand extensions I encounter are the news text alerts I get from CBS and CNN. They mirror human communication in their mode of delivery and their polite brevity. And mind you, because I don't want my left buttock buzzing from a silent ring every five minutes when a new message comes in, I choose my SMS alert subscriptions as carefully as I would my "Fave list." A brand has to earn a place in that coveted circle of close media friends, but once they are in, the benefits to that media company accrue in many ways.

Kinda like a teacher's pet -- only they don't call me a genius and wonder "how you know just about everything." Sometimes I really miss teaching.

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