MEDIA FOR THE ONLINE WORLD - The Who, Where, When & What of Wireless Advertising

Rumor has it that the Internet is old news, past its prime, passé. There’s a new kid on the block waiting to take its place and ready for a few billion in ad dollars. OK, Internet, it’s time to pass your crown over to the newest and most innovate medium yet—wireless advertising. Well, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little bit, but the advertising potential of wireless is enormous. Think of the wireless medium today as the Internet back in 1995, when technology, marketing and consumer demand all simultaneously merged into a new ground-breaking advertising medium.

This new wireless medium is not the web. Sure, much of it involves the Internet and websites, but for that matter so will television in the near future. The wireless medium—which is any small, personal, non-physically connected communication and information device such as cell phones, pagers and personal digital assistants (PDAs)—is different.

Wireless advertising interacts with consumers in ways other media do not. Because this wireless device is literally attached to your hip, it is able to potentially reach you anywhere and anytime. For the first time, advertisers can contact you in your car, at home, in the street, while shopping or working—through the same channel. No other medium can match this consistent message delivery.

With this shift in communication, advertising will now have to be more contextually based to be effective. Mass marketing will be less effective. Wireless messages need to take into account who’s using the device, when they’re using the device, where they’re using the device and what device they’re using.

Using contextual based messaging, there are a number of ways for marketers to test the advertising and e-commerce wireless waters. There is the basic text ad or audio ad, the cell phone equivalent to a banner ad. There’s email marketing, not glamorous, but it has proven effective on the Internet. There are sponsorships through which advertisers can tie-in to specific items (sports scores, stock quotes, restaurant locations). Retail marketers or those with short buying cycles can motivate purchases by offering instant coupons or sales alerts based on where or when a consumer is shopping. Marketers can ingratiate (and brand) themselves with consumers by helping to offset the high expense of using wireless devices by subsidizing their monthly service fee.

Marketers can develop their own content to attract consumers or adapt their current website to handheld users. They can create their own applications and charge consumers to use them on a monthly basis. This is showing some promise on the consumer side with online game players.

Even with all this exciting potential, I believe wireless is still a year or two away from becoming a legit ad medium. There are just too many hurdles to overcome right now: wide range of disparate platforms and technologies, getting clients to accept and try another new technology, educating consumers, attaining critical mass in wireless usage and developing industry standards and guidelines.

However, marketers who are experimenting with wireless today and are willing to stumble out of the gate in order to learn some painful lessons will be all the more wiser and successful in the future.

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