April 13, 2010
 

Consumers Raise Their Mobile Hands, Part 1

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By Paul McEnay

I've seen various companies recently making inroads into cell phone advertising. Then I saw something with my own eyes on my Verizon cell phone. All I could do was shake my head and chuckle at the ridiculous mini banner ad staring back at me above my weather forecast!

Does Verizon Care About Us?

I love the way we approach each new marketing medium, through the filter of all the other marketing programs we've done. We approached television as we did radio, and the internet as we did television.

It makes sense. It's what we know, and we're busy people. Better to do what we know, even if we're in a totally different environment, right? It makes us feel just a little cozier, more comfortable, and less naked in raw surroundings. It's difficult enough to do what we know in the environment to which we're accustomed, nowadays.

But it doesn't make it right.

People hate advertising. They loathe it, and glow with disdain for our profession. The call us shysters and swindlers, and portray us as liars and cold-hearted thieves. Then they pull out the classifieds, sift through Sunday inserts looking for the best priced pizza, and tend to be more glued to the Super Bowl during the commercial breaks.

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It's not that they hate advertising, it's that they hate its ubiquity, for the scatter shot targeting and more-for-less mentality.

Really? Is this all we can do?

I don't need a new car, and I won't buy a car for probably another 2 years, yet still, every day, dollar after dollar gets wasted by the auto industry, shouting louder, waving their arms and begging for the attention that I'll never give. Until I need one.

So, we can talk about targeting all day long. And we should, because we've gotten pretty good at it. The problem is, until we give consumers a hand in the process, we'll continue to waste money approaching people with a solution to a problem that doesn't exist for them.

Why not use that knowledge now, as we take our first baby steps into this new mobile platform? It's still pure, still largely untouched and disgraced by lazy marketing. Let's not soil it by applying what we think we know to this new environment.

But what can we do if not banner ads? How can we get attention without rollovers, interstitials and floaters?

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We involve the user in the process. Let them raise their hands, and reward them when they do.

We've already heard the whispers of this with things like Google's click-to-call program, which most had considered to be catered towards VOIP users until Apple stole the show with the introduction of their new category killer, the iPhone. Don't be fooled by the prodding pundits, even with some expected problems, this is a game changer like we haven't seen before in the mobile phone industry. With full browsing capability, click to call will surely play a much larger role in mobile search as well. Why use the yellow pages if you can book a restaurant straight from a google search?

And don't forget the use of short codes and text messaging for things like sweepstakes and mobile couponing, extending campaigns past the television set, print ads and outdoor boards and into the palm of our hands.

But while these are all good things, I can't help but think we can do better. These new programs give some of the control back to the consumer, but companies will always use money to overcome perceived shortcomings. It's easier pay for forced viewing rather than making things that are more viewable. And now, Verizon is making that option more easily available in a scenario that is a win only for their own fattened wallets, but a loss for both the annoyed costumer and the ignored advertiser.

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Which just brings me back to the solution, allowing consumers to raise their own hands as they see fit. For instance, a cell phone customer, in exchange for some sort of reward, gets to see ads only for product categories that interest them. What if this particular customer is actively shopping for cars? Wouldn't he or she actually welcome the opportunity to see those ads?

So, with a few clicks, he or she requests a certain allotment of ads focused on autos. Fair enough?

Sure, it's a little scary to hand over so much control, but if we betray the consumer, all we do is coddle and pacify the advertisers among us who continue to act selfishly, poisoning the well for other, more responsible, marketers. We're the good guys, right? So, let's stand up and enjoy ourselves while consumers regulate the bad.

And, let's be serious here, self-targeting is already happening. It happens every time a video or an ad is sent to a friend, or embedded in a blog. It happens when an email is forwarded or when one person tells another about a website. This redirection, misdirection or simple deflection can happen even more with recommendation engines, whether based on computer algorithms like iTunes or advice and ratings from sites like Yelp, Epinions or even Circuit City or Amazon.

It's community driven targeting, and with these new tools, once available only on our computers, now in our hands, supplying consumers with a wealth of information whether shopping offline or on, it won't be so hard to distinguish the great products from the mediocre.

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Verizon, It's for you.

Because of this, we have to learn to hand consumers the keys and force ourselves to do things that deserve and elicit attention. Our future is our own responsibility, and right now, Verizon and their advertising partners are proceeding irresponsibly, using the tools they think they know instead of taking this opportunity to innovate and embrace the power consumers have gained.

As we move into this new mobile platform, and any other new advertising medium, if you begin to think banners, floaters, and rollovers first, just remember, we can do better. Banners haven't been read their last rites just yet, but they are the final remnants of one-way advertising in a two-way world.

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Paul McEnany is a new media and marketing strategist at Levenson and Hill in Dallas, TX and works with clients in business categories ranging from logistics to QSR. He is a contributor to Beyond Madison Avenue, one of the most popular marketing blogs as well as his own personal marketing blog, Hee Haw Marketing. A budding activist, he can be reached at paul.mcenany@gmail.com.

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