Going Wireless at the W: A Few Thoughts From a Mobile Mixer

6/30/08Follow @gthuang

On Thursday night I found myself at the too-hip W Hotel in downtown Seattle, taking in a paidContent mixer hosted by publisher Rafat Ali and mocoNews.net principal correspondent Tricia Duryee. The topic was “mobile advertising in a 4G world.” John Cook of the Seattle P-I did a nice writeup of the event, catching up with a number of investors in attendance. And like John, no, I didn’t know that LinkedIn (which just raised $53 million this month) started in Seattle—interesting story.

As a relative newcomer to the whole mobile-online-ad space (I talk on my phone, that’s about it), I found the evening’s keynote and panel discussion most interesting. First, Scott Richardson, chief strategy officer of Kirkland-based Clearwire, gave a keynote about new online advertising campaigns for WiMax or “4G”—next-generation broadband wireless. These ads specifically target cell phones and smartphones, and show that there’s a lot of activity in figuring out how to deliver ads on mobile devices that are as effective as online advertising on desktops and laptops.

Duryee quoted a stat from eMarketer for context. In 2007, mobile advertising was an $878 million market in the U.S. That’s still a lot less than desktop online advertising, but the gap is expected to shrink in the next few years.

Next, Duryee moderated a panel of four industry execs, all wearing the same uniform—sportjacket, casual dress shirt, and slacks. They all stand to gain from mobile ads, so the main point of discussion revolved around how to make mobile advertising into a big business. Here are my quick take-aways from each, in their own words.

—Kyoo Kim, VP of Sales, MSNBC.com: “Microsoft is investing a lot in the mobile [advertising] space… What I tell my staff is, it’s got to be easy to buy, and easy to sell.”

—Jason Gruber, VP of U.S. Mobile Strategic Development, AOL: “For the next 24 months, the [wireless] carriers will play a big role in the value chain. There’s a fear factor in doing targeted ads [based on browsing behaviors]—will they lose customers? So far that hasn’t happened.” (The fear, apparently, is that customers will get mad if they get too many junk ads pushed onto their cell phones—which sounds reasonable to me.)

—Jeremy Wright, Global Director of Mobile Brand Strategy, Nokia Interactive Advertising: “There’s a tendency to see mobile as extending the desktop experience, but it’s much more powerful to engage people while they’re out and about. A mobile device is about finding things near you… The auto industry and entertainment are growing strong. Travel and finance have yet to get going.”

–Jeff Giard, VP of Business Development, Alltel: “The state of the market is very nascent. We have a long road to go… We have to create standards around mobile ads. Advertisers want to reach their audience across all carriers, not just T-Mobile or Verizon subscribers… We also need to be mindful of customer service and privacy—how to use and make available demographic, location, and behavioral information, and do it in a measured way.”

Lastly, Duryee pointed out that this month some people are paying $2.99 for a mobile “game” released by Paramount Digital to promote “The Love Guru,” a comedy starring Mike Myers. (I don’t think it’ll make up for the fact that he stopped being funny in 1997.) So look out for those ads masquerading as games and other entertainment…

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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