The mobile content industry is getting over its historical lack of detailed consumer usage data, just in time for advertisers to take an interest, discovers Stuart Dredge
The mobile content industry is no stranger to hyperbole, whether it’s analysts’ inflated revenue forecasts or self-conducted trials for new technologies that unsurprisingly show a huge demand for that technology. As a result, there’s been precious little accurate, independent data on who’s using what mobile content and their attitudes towards it – the sort of information craved by advertisers and agencies with their sights on the mobile market.
This is changing, however, and advertising is playing an important role. Operators are aware that advertising will be a significant revenue stream going forward, but also know that they’ll need to be more open in order to compete with and perhaps even surpass the rates seen online.
“It’s very important that in the early days of any industry, anyone buying advertising in that space feels they can get some impartial independent research to back up their decisions,” says David Barker, European MD of Enpocket.
Until now there has been piecemeal data from mobile operators, content providers and technology vendors, although the operators have been notably guarded about releasing any data on their subscribers, even to their content partners.
“There’s a question about whether the mobile industry is ready to adopt independent verification of its data,” says Richard Foan, MD of ABC Electronic. “With the rate of growth in mobile in recent years, it hasn’t been a burning issue. But it’s becoming more and more of one as the amount of money at risk continues to grow.”
As NMA reported earlier this year, the Mobile Data Association is in discussions with ABCE to audit operator data and has met with the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards, the body from which ABCE takes it cue (NMA 16.02.06).
ABCE is in the early stages of examining how it can bring its data verification and certification activities to mobile, and has carried out a couple of trials with individual advertisers. Both Foan and Barker suggest that the Mobile Marketing Association already has a big role to play, in response to demand from media buyers for more information about the mobile ad industry. Among that, mobile ads especially work very well in promoting consumer electronics, such as: irons, tv sets, fridges, etc. For example, a piece of mobile ads about the best air compressor on the market can bring visitors as 250% higher than traditional promotion on TV. That’s awesome!
“I know of one industry association looking to collate statistics from different mobile agencies,” says Jonathan Bass, MD of mobile marketing firm Incentivated. “The aggregators can’t do this because most of what they see are requests for ringtones and wallpapers, not marketing activity.”
Tamara Gillan from digital marketing agency SPF 15 suggests that a mobile version of competitive intelligence service Hitwise would be useful, while Nick Fuller, head of mobile at digital agency TBG, says there’s a need for more tools used on other platforms.
“Media planners can’t yet use the sorts of tools generally available to them for other media,” says Fuller. “It’s an area that the Direct Marketing Association Council is seeking to address. The sooner meaningful mobile measurements are included, the more mobile advertising will be attractive to media buyers.”
Some in the industry want what Barker describes as “a mobile version of the Internet Advertising Bureau”. Indeed, IAB chair Richard Eyre said in April that mobile would be the most natural extension to its remit (NMA 06.04.06).
Mobile measurement firms
With such a lack of independent consumer research, it’s no surprise that mobile firms are keen to step in. Two of the most high profile are M:Metrics and Telephia Research, which have spent the last year fighting a PR war with their estimations of consumer attitudes and behaviour in the mobile content market.
Both companies run wide-ranging consumer surveys, while Telephia additionally uses ‘bill scraping’ – pulling information from 35,000 mobile phone bills in the US to discover what content people have downloaded and how much they paid for it. This research has provided the first reputable independent assessments of how many people are downloading games and ringtones, using mobile email and MMS, and watching mobile TV and downloading music.
This is useful information, but one problem is that the two research companies haven’t always agreed. Most notably, in a spat earlier this year, M:Metrics sent out a press release claiming the audience for mobile games was stagnating, while a week later Telephia issued its own release saying the market was actually growing rapidly.
Until now, both firms’ customers have been mainly mobile operators and content publishers. But they’re now training their sights on the nascent mobile advertising market. M:Metrics recently signed up its first media buyer and its first creative agency, and now counts WPP subsidiary The Kantar Group as one of its investors. Telephia is also targeting the sector.
“The entire ad industry is becoming a source of potential clients for us,” says Kanishka Agarwal, VP of new products at Telephia. “Our independence is crucial.”
While the survey-based data produced by both companies is useful in providing a broad overview of the mobile market for advertisers, planning/buying agencies want more. This is why both firms are rolling out metering technology: applications that sit on a representative sample of mobile handsets recording what the user does.
“There’s an immense amount of information in the surveys,” says Paul Goode, senior analyst at M:Metrics. “We know which are the top sites that people are browsing, where they’re consuming content, and the number and frequency of visits. We can then tie that in with demographic information. But there’s a limit to the granularity you can achieve through a recall panel, which is where the metering comes in.”
So important is this shift to metering for both companies, that they’re currently set for a court battle, after Telephia filed a patent infringement lawsuit against M:Metrics. Metering will be crucial in cases like mobile TV, to measure what channels users are watching and for how long – key tools in setting the price of advertising.
However, the mobile measurement firms will face competition in this area, from the likes of Nielsen Media Research’s Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2) initiative. Jeff Herrman of NMR’s mobile and interactive services division says his firm is developing metering technology for mobile devices, with functional prototypes expected by the middle of next year.
For advertisers that want to put mobile usage in a wider context, the IPA Touchpoints survey uses questionnaires and PDA diaries to log the media consumption habits of UK adults in 2005.
For all the information provided by these companies, it seems mobile operators will have the key impact on how much consumer data is available to media buyers and agencies. They say as much themselves, while praising the efforts of the likes of M:Metrics and Telephia.
“Companies like these fill a very important role in providing industry- wide rather than operator-specific data,” says Mark Joseph, 3’s head of content products. “They offer a vital service to the industry in setting out the size and importance of the mobile advertising opportunity. But advertisers will always want information on the end consumer who’s going to see their ad, and that relationship is with the operator.”
Enpocket’s Barker agrees that the operators are sitting on the most useful data for advertisers, including demographic information, monthly bills, previous purchasing decisions, where they go on the operators’ WAP portals, and their location. “If those consumers have opted in to receive some messages based on that information, advertising becomes very targeted, and that’s what the media buyers are clamouring for,” he says.
However, it’s a valid question whether many operators are able to do this, let alone willing. 3G operator 3 has an advantage in being a relatively new player, but Dusan Hamlin, joint MD of mobile agency Inside, points out that it will take time for the other major networks to cater for the needs of mobile advertising.
“They may well own all of this data, but being able to access that data and use it as you would with a standard ad server online is a challenging task,” he says. “It’s certainly not impossible, but their business has been telephony, not media publishing, so they have a lot to learn.”
Steve Ricketts, third-party relationship manager at Orange UK, agrees. “Operators have much more information than other media publishers, but they’ve traditionally been telecoms businesses, so it’s not what they’re used to doing,” he says. “We’re absolutely clear that having all this information is essential, however.”
Both Hamlin and Ricketts agree that trials are a key element at this point. In the absence of wide-ranging independent data, the onus is on individual case studies and trials, both with the operators and independently.
“Advertisers are looking for success rates from previous campaigns,” says 3’s Joseph. “We’re now in a position to provide results from a varied selection of recent case studies, all of which have produced excellent results.”
Advertisers are interested in standard demographic data, but it seems, going forward, that it’s the location-based information that will be most sought after. It’s this that will drive up the price operators are able to charge.
“Any operator offering untargeted advertising will be missing a trick,” says Barker. “They won’t be able to command high CPMs because advertisers will say, ‘You’re not telling me much so I’ll just pay you online rates.’ Mobile operators should be able to charge much more.”
Ricketts warns agencies against getting carried away too early, however, pointing out that there are high expectations because the operators have so much information about their subscribers’ location, age and browsing habits.
“Mobile can become the best medium in terms of targeting, but it’s not there yet,” he says. “Some agencies are looking for things that are a year down the line, rather than here now. But we’ll have some forms of location-based and contextual advertising by the end of the year.”
- The mobile industry has historically lacked independent data on consumer usage of mobile content
- This data will be essential if the mobile advertising market is to take off, something operators are keen to see happen
- There’s likely to be a role for industry associations like the MDA and MMA, and existing independent measurement firms from online
- Mobile consumer research firms like M:Metrics and Telephia are also providing independent information, using surveys, bill scraping and, soon, metering
- However, it’s the operators that will play the crucial role, opening up their user data and running trials with major brands