August 11, 2009...11:53 am

Ten Reasons Why Mobile Advertising Has Not Reached Its Potential

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Reason #10: Read My Lips

At the 1988 Republican National Convention, George HW Bush, then a candidate for the presidency, spoke the famous line “Read My Lips:  No New Taxes”.  Unfortunately for Bush, he did not read his own lips, raised taxes during his first term to reduce the national budget deficit, and subsequently lost his bid for reelection.

In the mobile space, we also fail to read the significance of the millions of mobile users’ lips and texts in the mobile ecosystem at our peril. 

Yes, we have all breathlessly read all the latest trend data:

  • According to the July 22, 2009 Pew Wireless Internet Study,
    •  81 percent of U.S. cell phone users admitted to using their phone, at one time, for something other than making a voice call
    • 19 percent of Americans surf the Net on their mobile device on a daily basis – up from 11 percent in 2007 (that’s 73% over two years!)
    • Cell phone users are more than twice as likely to send a text on the average day as do anything else (except talk)

And, as a result, we continue to redouble our efforts to create iPhone applications and mobile web banners in response.  And, of course, we continue to send contests, promotions and other advertisements over our SMS ad networks.

Trend data helps predict tomorrow.  But, if we want mobile advertising to be successful today, why don’t we pay attention to the 270 million pairs of lips in the United States that communicate over the mobile phone – the vast majority by voice and 44% (Pew) using SMS text.

Today the overwhelming majority of people with mobile phones use it to communicate with each other. Interactive communication is the most predominant, most consistent, and most active use of the mobile phone today.

Yet, we do not utilize those moments of interactive communication to inform people of products, services and opportunities. No, instead, we create another mode of opted-in one-way communication via the cell phone – one way, from us to them, with an opportunity to give us a predetermined response, if they choose. “Mobile ad networks represent, by far, the largest sub-sector within mobile advertising” according to the May 2009 report by the Magna Group at MediaBrands. 

Certainly, mobile ad networks have been successful, and will continue to be successful, for the right clients with the right campaign.  I have recommended SMS based advertising campaigns to some of my clients and they have worked extraordinarily well. 

But, is no one in our mobile ecosystem reading the statistics about how people are actually using their phones?  As an industry, why are we not also tapping into the primary use of the phone today – interactive communication – for advertising purposes?

The question we need to begin asking is how we can create advertising that people want to receive as part of their daily interactive communication activity.  While they are talking and while they are texting to friends, family and other contacts, how can we leverage the personalized and contextualized process of interactive communication to help inform people of products, services and opportunities that appeal specifically to them at that particular moment in time?

Will it require new technology?  Probably.

Will it require new business models?  Probably.


For mobile advertising to reach its potential, we need to be less conscious of what we want to tell people and more conscious of what their lips are saying and their fingers are typing.  It is in that specific moment of interactive, one-on-one communication that our messages can resonate the loudest and have the greatest impact on those we wish to reach.

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