Commentary

Sell Me Something... Please?

Last week's research drop from Nielsen Mobile found that 23% of mobile users say they have seen ads on their phone in the last 30 days. About half of them responded to one or more of these commercial messages.

I guess this is good news, if the experience of engaging ads on mobile is in any way rewarding to consumers. Otherwise, we risk turning users off to the mobile marketing model altogether. My own experience continues to be mixed, but the other night I spent a couple of hours simply browsing for the most recent mobile ads across three carriers and devices. Yeah, I know, that sounds kind of pathetic, but it is my so-called life. And there is only so much you can do when your daughter has kidnapped the TV for an evening of Halo 3.

"Dad, stop whining and go play with one of your phones," she snaps. And after all, she does have the laser rifle.

What I keep finding in some of these mobile marketing programs is an incompleteness, a problem with sealing the deal.

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After hearing news that the Weather Channel is rolling out mobile video ads, I go hunting for some in the wild, only to find they aren't running yet. On the company's dedicated iPhone app, however, the predictable Zyrtec banner kicks me over to a pleasant enough landing page. The marketer's heart is in the right place, but the execution is not. Knowing that usefulness is important to mobile audiences, the microsite offers allergy outlooks, but then it makes me page through poorly organized lists of allergy triggers for every region of the country. The Special Offers section instructs me to visit the main site on the Web to get a $2 off coupon. Hell, Borders sends me 20%-30% off coupons that I now use right in the store. I can't even squeeze much detailed information about the drug out of this ad, which, again, refers me to the main Web site. There are pleasant images of a pollen-drenched field of flowers and a dog, however.

"Aw!" my daughter gushes at the puppy, as she drills plasma blasts into the belly of a Blue Team member. She is going through that sugar and spice phase, I guess.

I leave the marketing site wondering how Zyrtec expected to sell me anything.

Likewise, I can't figure out how click-throughs on the ubiquitous ThumbPlay banners work. I come upon the offers for bonus ringtones (if I subscribe to a $9.99/month service) on a couple of WAP sites, and it clicks me into a barren page that makes the plain offer and asks for my cell phone number. This strikes me as presumptuous, as if the free ringtones offer is a good enough lure on the face of it, and only a cheapskate idiot like myself would even ask what my $9.99 is getting me.

"Dad, try it out. You know all this crap you get is tax deductable." Ladies and gentleman, my 16-year-old (unemployed) accountant.

"Do you just hand your cell phone number over to a ringtone merchant without knowing much about them?" I ask.

"Yeah. It goes on Mom's bill."

Very well, then.

But the curmudgeonly and suspicious grumpy Dad (or at least the one I play in my living room) actually has to drill into the Terms and Conditions area of the Thumplay ad to find a link to the site itself. There actually is a case to be made for Thumbplay's service; curiously, it just chooses not to make the case in the ad campaign itself.

I am also puzzled a bit by Diet.com's almost-great mobile marketing push. As a promotion for its main Web site and premium services, the company just launched an excellent SMS program that lets you text in a restaurant name and food item to 34381 (i.e. "Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad). In return you get the item's nutritional details, from calories to fat, carbs and protein. I threw a number of branded chains and items at it, and most returned good results. Diet.com claims to index 1700 restaurants and 36,000 menu items. To the company's credit, this is a real service, and it is creative and handy enough for me to remember to use it when out and about once the number is already in the phone. And it does have the branding effect in every message, reminding me it is brought to me by Diet.com. What I miss is the mobile-centric follow-through. Diet.com has this robust extension into SMS without a handy link to a mobile version of its Web site. It got me hungry, then failed to feed me.

I wouldn't pick nits about some of these mobile marketing efforts if it weren't for the fact that other, more rounded and complete experiences are being executed very visibly on phones. I'll get to some of those in another column.

My little stormtrooper just got a call from the boyfriend, so I have an opportunity to grab the TV back and play a few minutes of "Super Mario Galaxy."

"Oh, My God! This man cannot possibly be my Dad," she sneers into the phone.

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