Wednesday, April 4, 2007

How far has mobile advertising developed in China

I have the opportunity to meet and work with various Advertisers and Agencies in China and here is an overall snap shot of what I had gathered.

Mobile is a unique advertising medium with unique attributes. Though not ideal for all situations, mobile is superb for “engaging the consumer”. Other media may often be preferable for branding and awareness, but for engaging the customer and for the interactions that build a lasting relation, mobile is great.

Big brands are interested and many like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Apple and Nokia had initiated mobile campaigns, but it will be some time before they invest major money in the mobile part of their campaigns. Coca Cola showed very interesting examples of mobile advertising that Coke has run in China, France, Mexico, UK, and Germany, but even then most of the activity is relatively small, and one of the primary objectives is trial/test/learn.

There seem to be at least 3 issues that need to be solved:
• fragmentation - its very difficult for a brand to get the reach they want – there is fragmentation across operators, fragmentation across handsets, different ad serving platforms, no standards.

• media buying for mobile is separate from other media buys.

• there is still some inertia/suspicion/lack of understanding at the top levels of major brands and agencies.

Education of subscribers is important. The mobile phone can do many things, but - depending on the country - most subscribers still only know how to talk. Developing certain consumer skills will make mobile advertising even more effective. These consumer skills would include being able to send/receive sms or mms, to download and run applications or games, to take a picture and upload, to navigate WAP sites.

Its too hard at the moment – there are too many “moving parts” that have to be coordinated – messaging platforms, video platforms, operator connectivity, handset testing, WAP development, etc. This has proven to be a good business opportunity for several companies, such as Madhouse Inc and 21 Communications who have developed the expertise of managing all these moving parts. But still it slows down overall uptake.

Role of mobile operators is not yet clear. China Mobile and China Unicom own the delivery pipes, and they have a tremendous amount of customer data that can greatly increase the value of the ads. And they desperately want to remain part of the value chain so they can collect part of the revenue. As we see them develop, the individual operator strategies appear widely divergent. In the past, the instinct of many operators when entering new markets has been to impose a high level of control and try to do everything themselves, and this maybe happening again with mobile advertising. How this impacts the growth of mobile advertising will be something to watch carefully.

Educating and creating the mobile advertising awareness is currently the only major effort led by all the mobile advertising players in China and I m confident that when mobile ad volume gets bigger and bigger, the advertisers and agencies will be more committed and start to take this medium seriously , and learn how to use it in the best way as part of the overall media mix.

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