September 20, 2009...9:03 pm

Ten Reasons Why Mobile Advertising Has Not Reached Its Potential

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Reason #5   Don’t Break Up With My Brand

Back when I was dating, the cardinal rule was to never phone after the first date until at least three days had passed.  The phone was too personal for such a quick contact and you could be seen as too aggressive or worse, too desperate.

Times have changed.  Now it is OK to use your phone for contact immediately after the first date, provided you don’t speak into it.  Texting something pithy or witty that night, or the following day, can often be viewed as a positive addition to the dating experience. 

Now let’s move to the end of the relationship.  Breaking up over the phone is not as good as breaking up in person, but not nearly as bad as – OMG! – breaking up via text.  Same phone.  Same message. Completely different level of cultural acceptability.

We respond to text messages faster than emails, and BBMs faster than texts.  Same Phone. Same message. Same textual appearance.  Different accepted practice.

 It is OK to whip out the phone (among some dining parties) at a restaurant to perform certain tasks – like looking up a sticking point in the conversation – but not others, like answering an email or playing a game. Same phone.  Same amount of time “away” from the conversation.  Different effect on your friends.

The list goes on and on.  What is it about the mobile phone that generates this long list of rules and practices that is not present on our other media?

The mobile phone is not “the third screen.”  It is a very personal, interactive, communication ecosystem of which the screen is just one visual component.  The mobile phone has developed, and is continually developing, behavioral mores and cultural norms that have very serious implications for marketers.  Violate one of those norms, and the consequences can be severe. 

Marketers who continue to treat the mobile phone as yet another screen to “repurpose content” or as a quick campaign add-on to “target a hard to reach audience”, do so at their peril.  It will be the brands that actively leverage the behavioral use patterns of the mobile phone and their attendant cultural norms that will succeed.

Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message” and he couldn’t be more right as it pertains to the mobile phone.  The emerging customs, lifestyle behaviors and prevailing standards associated with the use of the mobile phone are unique, real and significant. 

When mobile-specific behavior and culture is taken into account, the mobile phone shines as a brilliant addition to a well crafted overall brand marketing strategy – witness AT&T and American Idol. 

When ignored, it can have the potential to undo the hard earned trust of the very same brand.  AT&T found that out when it violated customer privacy expectations by using the American Idol list.  And worst of all, most of the customers who chose to break up with the AT&T brand as a result, didn’t even bother to inform them by sending a text.



  • Thanks for this post. I couldn’t agree more that you should avoid (like the plague) simply re-purposing web or print content for the 3rd screen. This is something we spend a lot of time educating our partners and clients on, but ultimately a major key in the success of our mobile magazines and our partners’ promotional efforts.

  • These are very good points that you bring to the table, for any organization to simply apply “web advertising rules” to an individuals, highly personal and cherished Mobile Phone, really has missed the potential opportunity that the “personal interaction” brings.
    On the other hand we also here a lot about “Opt in”, absolutely agree that any advertising / Marketing on the mobile phone needs to be “opt in”, but there needs to be more…for instance on Facebook, I “opted in” to setup an account and see what my friends are doing, but I’m fed up with Farmville and Mafia wars updates obliterating my page…… point being that “relevance” is a close partner to “Opt in”, and it is the successful relationship between these two points that will lead to a much better and positive experience for the consumer and Advertiser.

    • Hi there.

      Great post so far. I have come from 10 years of desktop web experience in an agency environment. I have recently launched and am directing our mobile division. One of the greatest challenges I am finding is convincing the client that wants mobile that they can’t just dump all of their desktop content onto their online mobile presence! I have to educate them so that they understand that mobile is not just a third screen (great point BTW). It is a device that people have a very intimate relationship with. Content must relate to context and user experience is top priority. Before we even agree to do a mobile strategy for a client, we analyze their desktop site for 60 days so that we have some “proof” of what content their mobile users are interested in in comparison to their desktop site. This allows us to prove to the client that they should start out with a 6 page experience vs a 500 page one. And no, their logo CAN’T be bigger.

      I really feel it is the responsibility of the agencies that are selling mobile strategy to their clients to educate and learn themselves. This would really improve a lot of the poor strategy that is occurring on mobile right now.

      I am still explaining usability to desktop clients. They are just starting to “get it”. For mobile, we have to be much more pro-active. It is our duty, as seasoned online media professionals, to educate ourselves and our clients on the medium. If we lose a client because they can’t commit to a sensible strategy, then we won’t proceed with the campaign.


      Kelly Brooks
      SpeakFeel Mobile

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