With mobiles it’s personal

With so many people owning mobile phones, and the personal media they provide, advertisers should make the most of the opportunities this offers, says Martin Bowley

Remember the mobile phone refuseniks – the ones who would never get a mobile? And then would get a mobile, but only to use in emergencies? And then would get a mobile, but only use it for phone calls? And then phone calls and texting? And then maybe to access their emails if they’re expecting something urgent? And then they were settling an argument in a pub by quickly looking something up on the mobile web, or showing you a cute picture they snapped of their kid in the park? And then you’re trying to talk to one of these one-time refuseniks but you’ve got a better chance of getting through to them by sending a message to their Blackberry than a face-to-face chat?How quickly the facets of mobiles that were once seen as extraneous have become indispensable. Mobile phones were once just a tool of convenience. Now as mobile devices – such an inelegant word for the gorgeous, sophisticated technology that is the Apple iPhone, the Nokia N series and so on – become able to do more, they have the power to transform our lives more than any other medium.

They do this by transforming our time – particularly the times of the day when we’re in between doing the things we want to do for reasons beyond our control.

Go to almost any train station, airport lounge or hotel lobby and you’ll see what I mean: people using their mobile phones not just to keep up with work, but to connect with the people they miss and would like to be with; or to while away a few spare minutes engaging with something they love – Beethoven, Led Zeppelin or a game of solitaire – rather than despairing once again at the invention of muzak.

Let’s not forget a mobile is the most personal form of media of all – mobile handsets are almost always individually owned, completely different to most television sets or desktop computers. Forget about the simple concept of personalising advertising, the growth of mobile presents advertisers with an opportunity, beyond simple “personalisation”, to connect via a medium that has real attachment. It cuts out all the unknowns of other mass media – such as who is listening to a radio in a room, or reading a newspaper – and is completely accountable in terms of effectiveness in delivering clicks and sales, to an even greater degree than internet ads on PCs.

As far back as March this year, Nielsen’s research showed that half of all US mobile phone subscribers – that’s 58 million people – had seen ads on their phones in the past 30 days, and half of that half said that they had responded to a mobile ad in some way. Not bad for an “emerging” medium.

Just a few months after Nielsen released this data, it came out with its report on global mobile web usage. Tellingly, this was called “Critical Mass” – the implication being that mobile internet adoption and use has reached a point in 2008 whereby large-scale mobile marketing efforts are now worthwhile.

Unlimited data plans are set to become more common, making it cheaper for mobile users to access the internet. This will bring about another sea change in the way the medium is used, much as “unlimited” broadband versus dial-up internet access transformed our experience of the internet from a quick check of emails once a day to a medium that rivals television in terms of entertainment value for many users.

Naturally, taking advantage of these developments won’t be as simple as trawling mobile operators’ databases for customer information. Privacy issues are already being raised over targeted internet advertising that are likely to be debated just as passionately when translated to mobiles. Privacy is starting to be of concern to internet users, and although it’s not really hit the mainstream public yet there’s enough talk about it to mean that targeting campaigns need to make sure that they’re not riding roughshod over consumer concerns.

Data ownership is also going to be an issue: we’ve already seen US mobile provider Verizon and Google wrangling over who will own the data generated by users’ searches as they attempt to hammer out a deal.

But hammer it out they will. And take to our mobile internet we will. Even the refuseniks. And when they do, are you going to be ready? vMartin Bowley is managing director at

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