Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Mobile - the next big thing ... well, since the last big thing

In his first monthly column of 2010, Greg Grimmer, partner, Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, asks if we are finally in the much-talked about 'Year of Mobile', if it's too late to jump on the apps bandwagon, and whether "mobile display advertising is a snare and delusion thus far" ...

"The Year of Mobile". 1998, was the first year I heard this phrase and I think I have heard it every year since.

It was a chap called Will Harris that uttered the words. At the time he was account director at Abbott Mead Vickers on BT Cellnet and I was the media planner at PHD on the same account. Mobile handset penetration had just hit 20% of the population and the 'pay as you go' market had just been launched.

For those that have worked with 'Bomber' Harris, you will be able to imagine his imperious personality booming out these words and, thanks to an energetic support team, a client with huge ambition, deep pockets and a fierce land grab strategy - 1999, was indeed the year of mobile. Handsets flew off the shelves of new fangled retail outlets like the Carphone Warehouse and Phone4U, and the mobile phone became commonplace amongst the general populace rather than the preserve of city financiers and account directors in advertising agencies.

In 2009, I caught up with Will Harris at Nokia World in Stuttgart. He has in fact lived by his 1999 proclamation and has made the last decade a career in mobile - working at an agency on Orange, in marketing at O2, and now as Global head of Marketing at Nokia. Truly, a mobile maven. However, unlike the time we had worked together on a network operator account, the chatter and the talk at Nokia world was not of contract land grab, or even handset innovation, but instead applications and business solutions.

My host in Stuttgart, David Barker, a mobile marketing veteran, was at the outset in the Nokia advertising sales division but being ever the technology nomad has secured a position working in the far more exciting area of mobile mapping for a recent Nokia acquisition - NAVTEQ.

This acquisition, according to the hard drinking Finns in Espoo, means that Nokia now has "a unique vision for location based services - to enable everyone to find their way to people, places and opportunities on mobile communications devices, cars, and desktop computers and in all the other places that are important to them." It certainly enables them not to pre-load Google maps on their X billion handsets, but whether the consumer then counteracts this move is subject to future scrutiny, but horizontal business integration is certainly the preferred option for the Nokians.

Interestingly the world of advertising is not. Whether talking to bright Cambridge techies developing commercial mobile search programmes, Finnish handset designers or German taxi drivers my 'profession' of advertising agent was deemed of low interest and with some degree of quaintness.

This is of course an anathema to anyone working in a London agency. We have all been focused on mobile as the next big thing, well since the last big thing. The thing is though we all need to work out what this thing is.

Business solutions, not mobile advertising (yet), is my watchword for clients and as for applications I am reminded of the James Goldsmith quote - "if you can already see a bandwagon it is too late to jump on it."

However, in an effort to prove me wrong (or to accentuate my point), this months Wired magazine features Jamie Oliver as its cover star, who is the owner of the UK iTunes app store's top grossing app. Truly a sign that the application marketplace is now a mass market phenomenon. (However, if anyone has managed to master the Ovi store on Nokia please let me know, despite one to one tuition I am still unable to make it function.)

Back to business solutions. HMDG's founding client Auto Trader have of course remained on their voyage as an innovative digital brand by heavily investing in mobile - yes we've done an app, yes we've done mobile ads to drive traffic to the specially created mobile site - but crucially, the investment in the mobile infrastructure to allow their key customers (the motor trade) to advertise on mobile handsets, as well as the web, and the magazine has ensured they will remain the number one marketplace in the motoring world. Others businesses (and indeed agencies and media owners) would do well to follow their lead. An easily accessible classified marketplace on mobile devices would surely be the same in property, jobs, and dating?

So mobile display advertising is a snare and a delusion thus far?

Potentially true. Search and classified advertising as demonstrated by Auto Trader are fruitful avenues for mobile revenue but maybe there is a company that is the exception that proves the rule. Whilst the latest brouhaha in the media is around Google's new smart phone (sorry super phone) the Nexus One offering and its threat to the dominance of the iPhone and Blackberry, one London based company has made interesting inroads into display advertising revenues by making a play for the fact that it will work on ten year old or ten pound handsets via Bluetooth.

Bluepod Media offers advertisers closed environments (cinemas, music venues, football grounds etc) where content and advertising is offered to consumers free of download charges and to a relatively captive (and crucially known demographic audience.) Their revenue figures dwarf some more established offerings and their growth show no signs of halting.

So, perhaps we are in the year of mobile, but we must all make sure that we don't have preconceptions of what that little screen space in our pocket will be used for.

MediaTel has launched a new Mobile section highlighting the latest trends and profiles affecting the growing mobile industry. Click here to access the new database

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