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Home Page Editorial
(July 18,  2001)

From Publisher and Managing Editor's Desk... 

Wireless Advertising Vendors and Industry Associations Need to Do Some Serious Thinking in Order to Avoid Being Derailed Before They Start 

There is no doubt that advertising industry is extremely excited about the prospect of reaching high-income earners anywhere and everywhere in order to promote the products and services of its sponsors. As soon as the word got out of market research companies like ARC, Strategy Analytics, Gartner and Forrester that there will be billion plus cellular phones in the hands of consumers soon, they have been thinking aloud as to how wonderful it would be to send promotional message to these phones. Wireless internet makes this technically feasible. MobileInfo.Com suggests that the industry must engage in open debate and apply adequate constraints before we unleash wireless advertising to both consumers and businesses.  We make following observations on this important application of wireless networks and web-enabled handsets.. 

  1. In our view, in the first phase of evolution of our industry, primary use of cellular phones was for critical communication with business and personal contacts. Now, cellular mode of communication has become more pervasive and has gone beyond purely critical and urgent mode. It is a matter of convenience and routine communication. In future, we expect this to move us further into the area of personal pleasure and entertainment.

  2. From consumer and business professionals' perspective, cellular communication should be personal and private with full control left between the caller and called party with the network only providing an infrastructure to conduct this communication. We can not use the analogy of fixed wireline networks where telemarketing personnel use an essentially-free service to promote their products and services. When people are mobile and away from their fixed place of work or residence, they are less prepared to receive unsolicited calls - much less advertising messages. By well-established notions of our society and business conduct, use of wireless advertising would be intrusion into personal and business privacy unless the recipient has agreed to receive this message. 

  3. Having stated the above principle, we believe that is quite reasonable for the industry to give an option to consumers to opt-in for receiving (on push-basis) advertising messages in certain specified circumstances. The key principle here is that the control (if, when and how) is entirely and completely in the hands of the consumer. Full compliance of this principle will avoid wireless spamming.

  4. We would like to cite the experience of ZagMe, a sponsor of wireless advertising in UK who, in our opinion, has understood consumers' requirements very well. ZagMe has found a way to reach young shoppers by exploiting the popularity of text messaging. More than 80,000 people, the majority of them in the 18 34 age range, have signed up to receive discount coupons and special promotions on their cell phones from two shopping malls outside London. The service is free to customers who sign up on its Web site or send a text-message on their cell phones. Customers choose which stores they want to receive coupons from and later notify the service whenever they visit either one of the malls. Messages are only sent while someone is actually in the mall. Since ZagMe started beaming out the promotions late last year using a two-way alerting technology, 75 stores have signed on to beam discount coupons to participants. Slightly more popular with female shoppers, customers are spending anywhere between $15 and $75 each time they redeem a coupon. Response rates on offers have been as high as 20 percent, according to the company. (News story courtesy Mobilocity)

    MobileInfo.Com, along with serious consultancies like Mobilocity, urges advertisers to institute opt-in at four levels firstly when they give their permission to receive advertising messages (presumably there is incentive - financial or informational), secondly to choose which sponsors they want to hear from, and thirdly they indicate their availability to receive messages when they enter a participating mall or trade show . Finally, the consumers should have the option to turn-off advertising when they do not want to be disturbed (like the "Do not disturb" sign on the hotel door knob. The result would be mobile coupons can be provided more as services and less as intrusive and irritating advertisements.

  5. While we think that wireless advertising has a legitimate business need to explore wireless medium for advertising, the enthusiasm of wireless network operators, wireless advertising industry associations like WAA must be tampered by the requirements of personal privacy, regulated opt-in procedures and  control mechanism instituted by third parties. 

  6. While we would like to think that the industry should be self-regulated and self-governing, there should be an over-riding legislation in each country.  

  7. Since the Internet spans the entire globe, appropriate forums including those within the United Nations should come up with internationally-acceptable guidelines.

  8. Early cadre of vendors involved in wireless advertising should show leadership, business responsibility and consumer sensitivity by developing best-practice implementations that show three different requirements for positive opt-in i.e. confirm if they want to receive advertising messages, indicate when they want to receive the messages and a mechanism to block messages when they do not want to be disturbed. With modern software technology, this can be easily accomplished.

  9. WAA, as an association of wireless advertising interests in our industry is a good and worthwhile start. However, it appears to us (we stand to be corrected by WAA, if we are wrong) that it still does not have enough representation of all the players in enough numbers. We do hope that they will take steps to achieve that status.

  10. We must have representation of our final set of customers - the consumers and business enterprises in one form or another. If we do not do so, hue and cry from the public and businesses will force the legislators' hands to come up with restrictive legislation. If that happens, wireless advertising will suffer more and it will never take off.

Chander Dhawan - Your Site's Principal Consultant and Publisher

Do you want to make any comments on this editorial? Send us an e-mail.

Here is a comment from one of our readers:

'This is the most reasonable and positive article about mobile advertising that I have read to date. Thank you for putting advertising in it's rightful spot. I live in North America and cannot speak for other countries but, I am so sick of having promotions pushed at me in every direction possible, that I am blind to it now.

There has to be areas where privacy is up held, and the phone, is one I feel very strongly about, whether it be your home line or mobile one. The reason why advertising feels so invasive in this mode, is that you cannot choose to ignore it. The caller puts a stop to what you are doing to answer the phone, decipher that it is advertising, and conclude your call. I was not given a choice!

Advertisers in the past have had free rein over what has been placed in front of our eyes. In fact freedom of choice has always been there credo. If you don't want it, turn away, turn it off, was sited as our choice. Having our landscape cluttered with there messages is a bit of an annoyance, but it is true that we are capable of becoming blind to it. Not so with the phone! That is true invasion of privacy!

I am not against advertising. People have come to depend on it being there, and use it regularly.

I like the way that ZagMe is dealing with this sensitive issue. There method of delivery is not intrusive, they understand that it is a valuable service to both consumers and vendors. They have found a way to facilitate both without an invasion of either your visual senses or your privacy. My hat is off to them!

My one hope is that someday all advertisers will discover that you do not have to hog tie us down to view or listen to your message. It just takes motivation to find the cooperation that exists on both sides of the equation." - Sharon Klein


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