Mobile Advertising; the Future is Here (Almost)

In the Beginning

The growth of technology brings with it the requisite of money. In this sense at least the monetisation of mobile phones is a reality that we must just face; the mystery has shifted from when to how. There are a number of different ideas being banded around from Google’s free phone in which users ‘buy’ into the ads by taking the phone, to interruption based ads similar to TV breaks. Then again the Gphone was denied by Steve Horowitz in favour of the Android platform which goes in semi-direct competition with Yahoo’s Go 3.0. There are many differences between the two, however the main killer is that Go will come preloaded on mobiles, whereas Android is downloadable and therefore you can turn any phone into a Gphone. Closer to home mobile operators 3 and Orange are already introducing banner ads to support browsing or free video in the case of 3.

But what’s going on here? I thought that my mobile was a very personal device and now there’s talk of ads and downloads? This is exactly one of the biggest problems faced by anyone looking to move within this sector. Privacy of one’s space and personal details is crucial for success, particularly when one company can hold so much information on individuals and not be policed in any meaningful way. Take the example of someone with an iphone, My Location and a social networking site including all affiliation or partner sites tied in together. This alone contains enough information to start one thinking.

The Issue at Hand

Therefore what is most important is that users actually buy into anything with full knowledge and consent and as the most important aspect of almost any business model they are treated with the respect they deserve. Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy, notes “there is power in default settings” and this became only too true in the case of Facebook. Their choice to the make the Beacon Project’s default setting opt-out rather than opt-in caused a number of privacy concerns and resulted in one husband buying a present for his wife only for the details to appear on her news feed and spoil the surprise.

Privacy issues and protecting users is fundamental within the Internet’s setup and becomes paramount when legal systems take so long to catch up that the privacy debate is almost entirely handled by the companies themselves. This can lead to the debate between customers and profit, sometimes resulting in opt-out systems. In some cases this can be extreme, Verizon decided to sell information on its customer’s calling habits to their agents, affiliates, its parent company and all of their subsidiaries. Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to how many companies that is in total and how much money was made from it? To partially answer the question Verizon described the group of companies as “pretty broad which I think answers itself really.

There are arguments concerning CPNI and how actual customer’s details aren’t released, but looking at trends over the last decade, once you crack the dam expect the flood. There are many companies that are really and truly based on achieving the highest possible level of customer experience, yet with the onus of self-policing left in the hands of companies rather than authorities, it must be a major focus rather than something mentioned in a tiny tab at the bottom. It is about creating a positive user experience and not taking advantage of the user via clandestine methods.

A Eye to the Future

So once the privacy issues have been resolved what is the future for advertising? Well, instead of simply being based around PPC, e.g. what someone is looking for at the particular moment, it could be based around their location, what they have thought about recently (Twitter), what they have searched for and their personal information stored on any number of sites. With My Location and geo-targeting paving the way, and Wifi and Bluetooth offering a tighter form of targeting, it will soon become common to locate yourself, friends or colleagues quickly. Again all of this is not too far way with Admob introducing ‘rich targeting’ which is the start of companies being able to target users via criteria such as device or carrier. With companies accessing this level of information and then buying our calling data there could be another more interesting worry on the horizon.

Sandy Pentland and others at MIT experimented on 100 mobile phone users to find what could be understood about their relationships from their mobile phone usage patterns. For example if you’re married your mobiles will often be very close together during the evening as you watch TV and apart for all of the day as you work separately. However your boss may sit just a matter of meters away from you, and thus have a slightly weaker although static signal, from 9.00am till 5.30pm Monday to Friday. Additionally Pentland notes that “all phones have built-in microphones that can be used to analyze your tone of voice, how long you talk, how often you interrupt people. These patterns can tell you what roles people play in groups: you can figure out who the leader is and who the followers

So most of this sounds miles away and has nothing to do with my current PPC campaign right? Well some of it isn’t too far away and advertisers are already beginning to take advantage of rich targeting. My Location is nearly here and the iphone can even tell if you’re walking or sitting, which in combination with information collected over time a particular time frame could give rise to incredibly targeted, powerful advertising.

Imagine a scenario in which a man leaves his house going down the main road to town on a Saturday at 2pm. Taking into account his previous behaviour there could be a good chance he will pass by shops X, Y and Z. Combined with information from other sites such as Facebook etc. an extremely targeted message could be sent informing him that there is a sale in shop Y of black trousers. An extremely basic version of this type of mobile location advertising already exists in certain places like football stadiums where people come into a Bluetooth area and can access information such as film trailers for free.

The elegance of a system like this is that it is not only targeted against what someone could want, but who and where they really are. Imagine half of your office getting a text at 4pm on a Friday saying that the bar round the corner, which knows you have never visited before, is having an impromptu happy hour and was wondering if you would like to come?

In Conclusion

These are the entirely possible implications of advertising when it actually becomes mobile itself, everything can become bespoke in terms of which ad is delivered, the best time of delivery, the method (pictorial, textual etc.) and any number of other aspects can be added. Therefore, crucially, with the correct privacy limitations and buy-in by users from the start this could be a real step towards always having advertisements which are truly in touch with their target, constantly delivering something of interest and generating higher ROI’s for advertisers funding the whole venture.

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