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The mobile phone's increasing potential as a marketing channel is forcing marketers to ring in the changes. Originally only the domain of a few leading-edge brands from the entertainment sector, now a growing number of firms are exploring the mobile channel as a part of their marketing mix.
A study by Airwide revealed that the number of brands planning SMS and MMS mobile marketing/advertising has doubled over the past year to 28 percent, and the same study also claimed that many brands are planning to increase the proportion of the budget allocated to mobile campaigns.
Coca-Cola in particular has long been a vocal advocate of mobile marketing. As long ago as 2005, the company was stating its faith in the future value of the channel, even suggesting that as a medium it would compete with TV. Speaking in November 2005, then Coca-Cola marketing manager James Eadie, said that it ought to be "phenomenally powerful and more important than TV… we should be spending 50 percent of our marketing budget [on mobile] within decades."
Only months later Coca-Cola had hit the streets of Spain with more than 50 Smart cars enabled with Bluetooth devices that sent free content to nearby users. As part of the 'Coca-Cola on the go' campaign, consumers merely needed to be near the car to be able to download music, wallpapers and Coca-Cola customised games.
"Coca-Cola wanted to reach consumers aged between 15-17 years old," explains Alberto Benbunan Garzon, business development director for Mobile Dreams Factory, the agency that worked with Coca-Cola on the campaign. "We branded the Smart cars with Coca-Cola, put Bluetooth antennas in the cars and put them at the exit of schools so that when the schools closed the leavers could receive free branded content. People aged 15-17 received the message and the campaign received coverage in the news. Overall, the campaign lasted three months, with different schools, different music, and we reached a lot of people."
Subsequent campaigns have seen Coca-Cola continue to explore the mobile phone's potential as a marketing platform. And it isn't alone.
“The clear difference in this market over the past twelve months has been the embrace of mobile marketing as an integral part of cross-media brand campaigns,” suggests ABI Research director Michael Wolf. “Mobile is no longer off-limits in the minds of advertisers, but is instead seen as a very personal way to reach consumers who can be incentivised through information services and compelling content, as well as through more directly relevant and targeted messaging.”
The real thing?
But the mobile marketing issue isn't cut and dried. One business that has witnessed both the benefits and shortcomings of the platform is Unilever.
In May last year, Lynx for Men, the Unilever deodorant, launched a new advertising campaign designed to increase awareness of the brand – particularly amongst the hard to reach 16-24 bracket of males that has traditionally been difficult to influence through advertising channels. Offering groups of mates the chance to stake their claim as the ultimate 'Lynx players' – the team best at pulling ladies – the competition saw entrants across the UK competing in regional finals before being whisked off to the five-day 'Boom Chicka Wah Wah' Rally in Florida for the grand final.
Alongside traditional marketing channels like posters and press, mobile advertising also formed an important part of the campaign according to Rachel Bristow, marketing communications and buying director at Unilever.
"We were driving consumers to a WAP site through posters and press, and adverts on the 3 and O2 websites," she explains. "There you could request updates and text alerts and download ringtones and wallpaper of the Lynx Lynxes – stunning girls who were part of the campaign to find the Lynx players. Ultimately we wanted as many groups of guys putting themselves forward to be the best players and the mobile was a perfect way to deliver some additional content, keep them updated, but also create some buzz and pub banter – these guys would have something on their phone that they could show to their mates."
Whilst the campaign wasn't Lynx's first foray into the world of mobile advertising, it was the first time that it used the mobile phone as a platform for a marketing pull campaign. "We have done other mobile advertising in the past, but more focused on pushing messages to consumers," says Bristow. "We have trialled some in-game advertising, when consumers are downloading games to their phones. But this was the first time we were actually asking consumers to opt-in and actively sign up – from which you should get better engagement and marketing results."
The campaign as a whole was a success, with the mobile being an important contributor. Overall, over 10,000 people registered for updates off of the WAP site on to their mobile phones, and Lynx enjoyed a 14 percent clickthrough rate from 3 and O2 to its WAP site.
The results have been sufficient for Bristow to acknowledge the qualities of mobile marketing – and of the possibility of the mobile channel featuring in future Lynx campaigns. But at the same time, there are some reservations.
Despite high mobile phone penetration in the UK and other obvious benefits of the platform, Bristow suggests there are several factors inhibiting it from being exploited to its full potential.
"You can send a lot of additional content and personalise it; you can send updates cheaply and quickly; and you can have a two-way relationship because there is an opportunity to have a two-way conversation," she explains. "Further down the line, I'm sure mobile marketing could be a consistent part of the marketing mix. But this depends on the phone charges – how much it costs consumers to access the web via the phone and how much it costs to download content like videos onto your phone.
"Because of the costs, millions of people aren't doing these at the moment in the UK. It's a major consideration for consumers and therefore a consideration for companies. But I'm sure that as these various charges drop, people using the functionality on their phone will increase."
Indeed, with a new generation of 3G handsets allowing a superior user experience of content downloads and mobile internet, and mobile operators increasingly offering flat-rate data charges, the mobile phone is sure to offer more rewarding opportunities for marketing in the future.
Stymied by some short-term platform-related issues, it may still only be on the cusp of the marketing mainstream. But, as forecast by Coca-Cola in 2005, it looks increasingly likely that the future will prove mobile marketing to be the real thing.