Ad Trip

Ads that follow your customers wherever they go. No, it's not a hallucination. Wireless advertising is here-but will customers buy it?

The smells of gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish fill the air of your Cajun restaurant. It's just after noon, and you're working the register while the lunch crowd files in and out. One of your regular customers walks up with her ticket and hands it to you-along with her mobile phone. You check the phone's minibrowser screen and give her 20 percent off on the shrimp etouffee. Your customer just cashed in a coupon. Welcome to wireless advertising.

You can't run down to your local ad agency and start flinging out mobile marketing just yet, but that day is coming. The fledgling industry has big plans for timely, personalized advertising. Some people envision consumers getting daily specials beamed to their phones when they walk past local restaurants, but many entrepreneurs just see it as a big-time opportunity to reach very specific and willing customers. For wireless advertising, the gumbo has just started to stew.

This Ain't the Internet

The last great leap in advertising was supposed to be the Internet. Buzzwords like banner ads, click-throughs, eyeballs and page views abounded. But Internet advertising now has about as much life in it as the hamburger you ate for dinner. That's why Gary Ozanich, senior research analyst with The Kelsey Group in Princeton, New Jersey, wants to get one point across: "Wireless marketing is not the wireline Internet. That's the number-one thing that has to be communicated to potential advertisers as well as users."

predicted revenues from wireless advertising and promotions in the United States in 2005. $1.5 billion of that will be at the local merchant level.
SOURCE: The Kelsey Group

Banish those visions of banner ads for now. "What we're talking about with wireless is really the ability to send people messages in a contextual sense," Ozanich says. Like sending your Cajun restaurant customer a 20-percent-off coupon through her cell phone in the morning good for lunch that afternoon. But there are many forms wireless ads could take-think branding ads for clothing stores or discounts on movie tickets as users surf the wireless Web to get showtimes.

Don Albert, vice president of sales and marketing at FusionOne, an Internet marketing firm in San Jose, California, says marketers are trying to gauge whether direct response and direct sales are the only things wireless advertising is good for. They want to avoid a replay of the Internet advertising debacle. In fact, the rest of 2001 will probably be spent on tests, surveys, data gathering and white papers.

"We have to prove this advertising can be effective," says Albert. "There are skeptics that say there's no way you can do anything on that small screen that's going to be worth anything." But an ad is still valuable if it prompts a consumer to visit a Web site later or remember a brand name. Many current trials focus on measuring those effects beyond consumers' immediate responses to ads. If the industry can prove a range of value for wireless ads, then it will have a solid argument for widespread adoption.

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This article was originally published in the August 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ad Trip.

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