Wireless: Look Before You Beep

Sep 1, 2000 12:00 PM, CRAIG KRUEGER
- Promo Magazine

They beep, they buzz, they ring, they vibrate - everywhere . . . in restaurants, board rooms, and movie theaters; in planes, trains, and automobiles, during work, play, and even sleep. The convenience of mobile telecommunications has become an addiction.

Wireless information technologies are now capable of reaching a massive mobile audience with consistent regularity. The advent of these new wireless devices has spawned a new medium that possesses an array of targeting opportunities for promotion and marketing executives. However, while numerous agencies are in a frenzy to claim wireless space for their respective clients, they face significant hurdles as they confront a brand new learning curve.

"Wireless media retain some of the most powerful characteristics of other media," says Thomas Simmons, vice president of Midcontinent Communications, Inc. "Like direct mail, wireless possesses the capability of pinpoint targeting. As an evolutionary extension of the Internet, wireless is a dynamic interactive medium. Akin to broadcast, wireless sponsorships can be structured by day-part and around programming."

The wireless market possesses an array of devices capable of receiving promotional sponsorships linked to news services. These devices include alphanumeric pagers, PCS digital telephones, and hand-held computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Because of new technologies such as wireless application protocol (WAP), mobile devices will be able to access content that previously was only available via wired Internet connections. According to the Yankee Group, more than 60 million WAP phones, two-way messaging (alphanumeric) devices, and personal digital assistants will be in use throughout North America by the end of 2005.

The actualization of wireless media as a viable promotional vehicle must and will be preceded by a struggle to understand, define, and accurately represent the medium. Unlike marketing on the Web, wireless media offers promotion executives an exclusive positioning opportunity in an uncluttered environment.

While the primary media imperative of wireless is the delivery of a targeted audience comprised of upscale, mobile, hard-to-reach professionals, measurement of the psychographic and demographic characteristics of wireless subscribers requires methodology that has yet to be adopted.

For example, how should wireless impression counts be measured? Should introductory sponsor taglines ("Brought to you by . . .") and promotional sponsorships following each information feed be counted as two distinct separate impressions?

Another question relating to impression calculation pertains to the establishment of a definition for read news. Like Internet surfing, wireless surfing occurs when subscribers scroll through different information slots to reach a news category. When wireless surfing takes place, it is possible that a promotional message linked to a specific news feed will never be read because the subscriber chose not to enter that category - yet the subscriber's act of surfing through each information portal may be represented as an impression.

These issues are not new. When Internet sponsorships first began, surfers were falsely counted as actual audience hits. This led to the adoption of new measurement processes based on page views and click-throughs rather than hits.

The calculation of audience in wireless is trickier than one would first think. Media buyers must understand that wireless devices need to be programmed to receive content or be (over-the-air) OTA/WAP-enabled. Although a carrier may show a validated subscriber base in millions, actual subscribers who are capable of receiving content services are typically less than 50 percent of the overall subscriber base. And those who actually receive and see sponsored content end up being a percentage of the percentage of subscribers capable of receiving them.

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that, by the end of 2001, all wireless devices are to have global positioning satellite (GPS) capability, which would let promotion executives target customers by their exact location at a given time. But most wireless devices currently in operation in the U.S. do not have this technology.

Legitimate concerns relating to consumer privacy are also associated with GPS technology. Should wireless subscribers be tracked and their travels reported everyday?

In addition, because there are laws that prohibit the promotion and advertising of certain products, individual product categories may be excluded from sponsorship over wireless media - tobacco's exclusion came way back in 1971, when it became unlawful to advertise cigarettes through any electronic communication medium that fell under the FCC's purview.

While significant challenges exist, the revenue potential is high. Merrill Lynch analyst Linda Mutschler projects that mobile data advertising and promotional revenues will exceed $6 billion in 2008.

Until then, as mobile devices increase in bandwidth and capacity, wireless media will continue to evolve, posing new challenges in the areas of measurement and privacy.

Craig Krueger is president of Target Wireless, Fort Lee, NJ. He can be reached at ck@targetwireless.com.

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