CBS Mobile Chief: Wireless Industry Is Overwhelming Consumers

To make mobile a viable ad platform, carriers, device makers and content providers need to simplify mobile media-buying and not try to pitch cell phones as mini-TVs or Web sites.

That was the upshot of a panel, "Unleashing Mobile Advertising," at the AlwaysOn OnMedia NYC conference Wednesday highlighted by a diatribe unleashed by CBS Mobile chief Cyriac Roeding against the endemic confusion surrounding the medium.

Responding to a question about the iPhone's breakthrough as user-friendly phone, Roeding assailed the rest of the wireless industry for overwhelming consumers with a dizzying array of service options and added costs that end up scaring off advertisers off as well.

"How do we expect anyone to take this seriously as an advertising device if we keep telling them about the unbelievable complexity that arises out of the fact that we have 20 carriers in the U.S., then we have fundamental technologies, GSM and CDMA..." said Roeding, continuing with a litany of technical and service hurdles familiar to many cell phone subscribers.

"So let's make it simpler--let's talk about usability, let's not talk about the next 15 menu items, and let's not try to copy another medium," he added.

Roeding's spirited rebuke of the industry was met with spontaneous applause while fellow panel members from Nokia and Virgin Mobile, among others, smiled stiffly.

The CBS executive had led off the discussion by saying that advertisers have to understand why they need to be on mobile phones. "If you can't answer that question in 10 seconds, you're out of the game," he said. The answer should be, he went on, that mobile is the only medium that people carry with them 18 hours a day.

Mobile is also starting to provide reach to advertisers as sites gain larger audiences. Roeding noted that during the last quarter, CBS Mobile's sports section drew 75 million mobile page views and 5 million unique visitors during the fourth quarter.

But he warned against trying to promote mobile as a smaller version of the computer or TV screen. "If you are trying to make this the next online page, you will fail...because this is a new medium in its own right. " To that extent, he identified location-based services as a natural fit for mobile phones.

Roeding also said mobile content providers need to provide clear measurement benchmarks to encourage marketers to spend more on mobile.

Other panel members stressed that mobile advertising must be especially tailored to users because consumers view cell phones as more personal devices than other platforms.

Scott Kelliher, director of mobile advertising at Virgin Mobile USA, explained that the prepaid service offers its youthful customers free airtime in return for watching advertising through a program called sugarmama. "You have to offer stuff to users in the way they want, and we've been very successful doing that," Kelliher said.

He also noted that branded content on Virgin Mobile targeted to its core audience of teens and twenty-somethings generates click-through rates of 6%--much higher than rates for typical Web banner ads.

In the same vein, executives from mobile entertainment content site Thumbplay and mobile marketer JumpTap stressed mobile's strength as a direct-response medium.

"A lot of the owners of inventory in the U.S. make the mistake of only wanting to sell to Ford and the big brands," said Are Traasdahl, president and CEO of Thumbplay. As with the early days of the Internet, mobile is likely to feature more direct-response advertising before major brands populate the landscape.

JumpTap CEO Dan Olschwang said that services like Thumbplay are important because they're proving that that mobile advertising can work. "Then the big brands will come because they need to see the proof that this thing works," Olschwang said.

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