It’s no good just waiting for the mobile revolution to happen – the opportunities are there now.
Working with a medium as dynamic as online, we’re used to talking about revolutions. Studying it every day, seizing the opportunities and working through the trials and the tribulations make it very easy to get complacent about something that has revolutionised consumer behaviour. The creation of the internet will go down in history as one of those key developments that has totally transformed the present and will ultimately shape our future.
If the revolutionary Henry Ford had listened to consumers, the motorcar as we know it would never have been invented. Thankfully, for the human race and horses, he achieved one of the greatest accomplishments known to man, but not without teething problems. His vision was to mass-produce an automobile that was cheap enough for anybody to afford. In 1908 he released the first Model T, and every subsequent year the cost was lowered. This meant that, for years, Ford was supplying more than half the cars in the US.
Over his career, the Ford reputation improved, but it also suffered. Product development slowed, sales fell and grew, and his reported stubbornness apparently made him almost impossible to work with. However, the end result was a machine that changed our lives forever.
The career of Mr Ford reminds me of the rise of online, which began with little content, poor connection speeds and high costs. Now that advertisers are behind the medium – which is still growing and worth £1.6bn in the first half of 2008 – the barriers are few and far between.
The rise of online has been accompanied by the emotional attachment we have placed on our internet connection. It seems hard to imagine life without access to your email, catching a missed programme on the iPlayer or being able to connect with friends on Facebook. And, of course, online banking, online shopping and researching travel and insurance are also firmly entrenched in our daily lives and seem harder to live without.
The unbearable life without a mobile
However, none of this emotional attachment bears any resemblance to the threat of being without your mobile phone. Its misplacement catapults us to the state of mind usually reserved for times of bereave-ment. This is perfect for advertisers, but with so many false starts with mobile, when is it really going to take off, and what can we learn from the online industry to make it work?
One reason for the delay is that our expectations are so much higher than when online first emerged in the early Nineties. When the first Ford hit the streets it went faster and was more comfortable than a horse, so everyone was happy. Nowadays it provides a pretty average experience. In the early days of online we were tolerant of Error 404 pages, poor loading screens and painfully slow access speeds. This is not the case today, and our expectations are higher than ever. We expect our mobiles to perform like online.
Until now, advertising on mobile has been slow to take off, simply because the technology has not matched this high consumer expectation. Therefore, the message for advertisers is that their marketing needs to match the technology we currently have. Producing creative that cannot be served, accessed or measured, however flashy, is simply a waste of money. Don’t overcomplicate the communication and move at a sensible pace. Recent winners at our Creative Showcase Awards have highlighted the power of mobile, such as Glue London’s work for the Royal Navy, which used mobile video to dramatise the various skills needed for such a career and is breathtaking to watch. And AKQA’s recent Nike PhotoID work allows you to take a picture with your camera phone of anything‚ and Nike will design a shoe that best matches the colour of that image.
Be the early bird
Waiting for the year of mobile is just plain lazy. The fact is that one day the medium will inevitably feature on the plans of every marketer. Research recently conducted among the media world by the IAB suggests that 2010 may be this time, but that’s no reason to sit back and wait until everyone else is doing it. When online first arrived there was great excitement about the vast opportunities, but the wise brands concentrated on search, display and email, which are what primarily should be the focus for today’s mobile marketers. Don’t be seduced by the pitch of the future‚ think about what can be achieved in real terms, now.
Online was initially pitched as the most measurable medium. But just because you can measure a click doesn’t mean online is just for direct response. Browsing is not always conducive to clicking on an ad, link or video, just as I don’t run and buy a Toyota when I see its press ad. With display ad spend on the rise in the UK, we know advertisers recognise the importance of using it as a branding tool. If mobile becomes the new direct-response medium, it will become a graveyard for promotions, grossly under achieving its full potential. Driving sales is attractive, but if I religiously check each football score ten times on a Saturday via my handset, then you should get your brand in front of me each time. The GSM Association is taking brilliant strides in the right direction to ensure that mobile is appropriately represented for advertisers, and it would be a shame for the click-through to be industry standard for measuring sales and brand awareness.
The IAB has now teamed up with Orange, O2, 3, T-Mobile and Vodafone to help educate and grow the market using research, events and publications, and we want to do for mobile what we did with online. Of course, standardisation of formats is essential for growth, so we are working with the Mobile Marketing Association to ensure that these are adhered to, making it clearer for all parties to plan, buy and implement. But mobile advertising will not grow as a discipline or become more useful for consumers until big brands lead the way. The major operators have set the scene perfectly, but without more funds and further commitment from advertisers the medium’s growth and development will be slow. Currently innovation in mobile is largely being driven by the brands that have a strong online heritage, such as Facebook, eBay and Google paving the way with their useful mobile applications.
The time is right
So, is it the year of the mobile? No, and there has never been a year for online, but the medium did – and continues to – grow. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start on mobile, whether it’s a standalone campaign or one integrated with traditional activity. Those who were first to embrace online are reaping the benefits now by having benchmark statistics and experience that spans much further back than the late adopters. Some have even changed the way they do business to accommodate the pressure of delivering digital campaigns. The true potential of mobile is yet to be fulfilled, but it’s ready and waiting for forward-thinking advertisers to maximise now.
Just as Ford was a pioneer in his time, brands have been given the opportunity to define how we use the medium responsibly, effectively and, most importantly, cost efficiently, which means the next revolution can’t be that far away.