iPhone Advertising — Not the Only Game on the Mobile Web

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IphoneADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — The iPhone 3G has opened up what would appear to be a revolution in mobile computing. Since its debut, the device has dominated coverage in the mobile and technology press—day-to-day, it’s not hard to spot iPhone news: from iPhone apps, to iPhone clones, to iPhone killers. Of course, advertisers and marketers are trying to discover how to tap into this new medium to reach new customers. But beyond the hype and the whirlwind of media coverage and discussion that accompanied the launch of the 3G and the new iPhone App store, a relatively small number of people actually own iPhones. So what about everyone else—all the rest of us with phones that come with less built-in media buzz and hype?

This is the underlying (and often not acknowledged) subtext to the iPhone juggernaut—that a relatively small percentage of mobile phone users use a smartphone like the iPhone. And despite what seem to be inherent advantages to advertising on the iPhone, the truth is that mobile advertising is just as effective on smaller, more mainstream “mass market” phones. In spite of the apparent disadvantages to advertising on devices with smaller, more compact displays, the adage that it’s not the number of advertisements but the effectiveness of the advertisement that matters is especially true with the mobile medium. It’s also true that the size of the ad matters much less on the mobile screen than with other media, rendering the idea that advertising is better or more effective on the iPhone a questionable proposition at best.

The broader group of mobile phone users who use these mass market phones constitutes an outstanding opportunity for advertisers and marketers. According to a recent study by IDC, worldwide mobile Internet usage will continue to grow at a rapid clip, expected to reach 546 million users this year (nearly twice as many as in 2006) and is forecast to surpass 1.5 billion users in 2012, according to a recent digital marketplace forecast from the IDC. Smartphones like the iPhone and its various clones will help the market fulfill these predictions, but for the foreseeable future the mass market phone will continue to be the dominant method of accessing mobile data services, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Some may ask why users would want to access mobile Internet and data on non-“smart”phones, with their inherent limitations—again, small screens and lack of a keyboard. But it’s easy to forget that the mobile Internet is a different animal than the PC-based version, even on the iPhone. Many mobile applications don’t require heavy use of a keyboard. And mobile browsers, web sites, and mobile applications continue to evolve to better accommodate the needs of phone users with devices of all types and sizes.

Ultimately, though, the most compelling argument for targeting the broader “non-smartphone” market is sheer scale. As I’ve written previously, the key to success in any advertising medium is numbers (reaching the most people for the least cost) and targeting, and mobile is no different. Unlike the iPhone and other smartphones, the mass market phone by far gives advertisers the all-important scale, in term of users. This is something marketers should recognize as a key component to finding success in mobile, and a real opportunity for those who recognize this fact.

Advertisers and marketers who want to tap the potential of the mobile medium will be well-served to broaden their focus and look beyond just the iPhone and devices like it in order to tap into this new way to target and reach new customers around the world. Within the context of the almost magical aura surrounding the iPhone, it is important for mobile marketers and advertisers to step back and look at the bigger picture. While the iPhone presents a great opportunity for more dynamic mobile advertising, it is just a slice of the larger pie.

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