A year ago, pundits, analysts, and trade press columnists frothed about the potential of wireless Net access. Despite these expert predictions, the American public has ignored the wireless web and the same experts now agree it’s not yet ready for prime time. Still, many ad planners and buyers are keeping the wireless web on their agenda. That’s understandable since wireless’ tightly targeted, affluent audience is alluring. Before you become a wireless advertising pioneer, however, here are six things to remember.

1.) Ignore claims that millions of people have Net-ready phones and are awaiting your message. Numbers are scarce, but it’s become clear that, while a sizable minority of North American consumers own Net-ready phones, most use them only for voice. A study last August by Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) found that only about five percent of all wireless phone users acknowledged their phones could be tools for Internet access.

2.) Target your ads wisely. Products and services that relate directly to the act of being away from home or the office are your best wireless advertising bet. For instance, if you sell travel-related services or luggage, wireless advertising is worth a shot.

3.) Don’t believe the “Japan Theory” that states that, since wireless Net access is wildly popular in Japan, it inevitably will be just as popular in the U.S. Wireless phones are the primary access point to the Internet for many Japanese. In North America, users are accustomed to fast, cheap desktop access, not slow, expensive access on teensy screens.

4.) There is no history to help you predict results, and there won’t be until somebody puts their dollars on the line. True, studies are being conducted by wireless infrastructure vendors, such as the one by SkyGo in Colorado. Since subjects are being made aware of the nature of the study—and in the Colorado study actually are being given phones—the results will be skewed.

5.) Location-based advertising and marketing is red meat; remain a vegetarian. Location-based campaigns reach only users who have told you about themselves and then opt to participate. In addition, you know their location so you can tailor your pitch. This is highly tempting, but resist for now. We don’t yet know how many users will opt in and for how long. If you invest in location-based advertising or marketing, you will, essentially, be conducting your own feasibility study. This is one area in which the SkyGo study, which will end in the first quarter of 2001, should provide useful data.

6.) Phones aren’t the only wireless devices. Wireless ISPs such as OmniSky, Go America and Yada Yada provide wireless access for handhelds, which have screens that are large enough to display simple banners. So far, the subscriber base of these services is small—less than 100,000 judging from the releases of the various vendors. But this type of Net access is growing quickly and, in the long-term, may be a more viable than phone-based campaigns.

The bottom line: Wireless advertising and marketing is the current flavor of the month, but this is an unproven medium. In some cases, it might be right for you, but in most cases, be cautious.

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