Ad Trip

But First, the Barriers

Wireless advertising faces plenty of critics with legitimate concerns. First among those concerns is the spam issue. The fear is that consumer privacy worries and hatred of spam will stop wireless ads dead in their tracks. Knowing there's no love lost between consumers and marketers, the Wireless Advertising Association (WAA) is trying to take the first bite out of mobile spam.

"In a nutshell, we distinguish between push advertising and pull advertising," says Albert, who's also the vice chair of the WAA. Push advertising is akin to unsolicited messages in your e-mail inbox. They're unrequested, unwanted and rub consumers the wrong way. The WAA feels strongly that marketers and publishers shouldn't send e-mail to people without their confirmed opt-in permission. Says Albert, "You have to confirm that the phone is indeed the phone of the person that gave the opt-in permission in the first place."

The WAA's privacy guidelines can be accessed at Still, there's no guarantee against renegade marketers or companies abusing the opportunity, much like the junk fax craze of the late '90s. Some wireless anti-spam bills have already bounced around Congress, though none of them are likely to become law.

WAA members hope their upfront approach will head off both consumer complaints and restrictive legislation. "It does no good to anyone if the users are annoyed by the marketing," Albert says. "Many users will welcome targeted messages that bring some value to them, as long as they can control it."

"Many users will welcome targeted messages that bring some value to them, as long as they can control it."

Wireless advertising enemy number two is a technical problem. Unlike Europe, which has settled on a single wireless standard, the United States is saddled with a bevy of competing technologies. Minibrowsers come in different sizes and types. PDAs are a growing force. Some phones are WAP-enabled; most aren't. It's a telecom Tower of Babel.

"You do have to get over the WAP hurdle," says Ozanich. "And there's certainly the issue of a learning curve for merchants regarding the opportunity." The Kelsey Group expects the WAP problem to ease as consumers upgrade their cell phones over time. Meanwhile, wireless ad agencies are working to make ads accessible over as many standards as possible.

Another issue is the trepidation of most wireless carriers. According to Albert, "The carriers are in positions to serve largely as gatekeepers. They could make wireless advertising take off in a heartbeat if they get behind it." Ozanich predicts increased interest from carriers as they discover advertising's potential for increasing customer loyalty and encouraging usage.

Problems like those are an indication only that wireless advertising is a new medium. Analysts believe wireless's ability to reach consumers is enough to push aside the obstacles.

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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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