The first banner ads appeared in 1994. Back then, in the Web’s infancy, marketers were hesitant about diving into the online advertising model. They wanted to stick their toes in the pool and test the water first. As it turns out, those that were the first to dive in were the first to capitalize, taking advantage of the new technology before banners became ubiquitous on every home page.
As marketers, we’ve evolved a lot in six years; the technology advances the Web has presented to us have driven that evolution. We are at the cusp of what could be one of the greatest opportunities for online marketers since that fateful day in 1994 when the first banners flashed across those primitive Web browsers. Web technology has the power to take targeted, measurable interactive marketing campaigns and messages beyond the desktop to wireless devices and even to users’ TV sets.
In its infancy, advanced media marketing is a throwback to when the Web was first gaining a foothold on consumers’ consciousness. It is a strange, new world that marketers don’t quite know what to make of yet. But unlike banner advertising of a few years ago, more people than you might think are jumping into the pool. And there is good reason: The opportunities are astounding.
“Wireless” is the word on every marketer’s lips these days. With analyst firms such as Jupiter Communications, New York, predicting nearly 80 million “smart phones” with Web browsers will be in use by 2003 (“Mobile Web Access: Overcoming Wireless Walled Gardens,” July 1999), it’s no wonder marketers are looking at cell phones as the next great marketing platform. The ability to reach users on a number of levels, from geo-targeting to ads based on personal interests, is exciting. That hasn’t stopped the questions from flowing, however. The good news is many of the questions have positive answers.
The foremost question seems to be one of consumer acceptance. Cell phones, for example, are viewed by many as personal devices, used for specific purposes, namely, to make calls or quickly surf the Web. Will users be amenable to receiving ads over their phones? If they are targeted to the interests of the user, the answer will be yes, but very specific targeting is key; otherwise, the ads will most likely become a nuisance.
Wireless marketing is not just relegated to cell phones. Personal digital assistants will prove a major target for online marketers. We will see a quicker adoption curve for advertising over PDAs for several reasons. First, PDAs are traditionally used for business; as a result, ads might be more immediately accepted than over a more personal, sometimes recreational, device such as a cell phone. Another reason lies in the physical makeup of a PDA — the screen is generally bigger, so advertisers can do more with the ads than they can do with a cell phone. With PDAs they can go beyond simple text ads and develop more dynamic and graphics-oriented promotions.
We may start to see a convergence between cell phone and PDA. Devices that combine the voice capabilities of a phone with the expanded screen and functionality of a PDA, for instance, may crop up. Picture a tool that allows you to clip your earpiece to your PDA so that you can talk, take notes and work on spreadsheets at the same time, all in a mobile environment. This is the way the market is moving. It’s about making users more mobile, as opposed to being chained to their desktops or laptops. It’s also about making people’s lives more flexible — and providing marketers with the ability to deliver relevant content regardless of where the consumer may be.
The key word is relevant. One means of making wireless ad content targeted and relevant is through profiling, which is possible on Web-enabled cell phones because many of the browsers contain the ability to read cookies. However, the option of cookie-enabling the browser is up to the carrier. As the market matures and cell-phone Web use continues, more carriers are likely to provide cookies so that the CNETs and Yahoos of the world — “first-mover” sites providing the carriers with a good portion of their wireless Web revenue streams — can learn more about the audiences visiting their sites.
Geo-targeting will undoubtedly prove one of the most popular means of wireless advertising. Without betraying a user’s identity, the cookie-enabled browser on a cell phone will be able to send notification back to a server, which lets the site know what area code a user is currently in (this will even be capable when a phone is on “roam” mode). The site will then be able to deliver an ad regarding a product or service within that area code directly to the individual’s cell phone. Because of this, rather than limiting the power of e-commerce, wireless advertising could actually open up possibilities for companies that are not traditional Web marketers, such as grocery stores and gas stations.
Measurement seems to be another gray area, but it needn’t be. Using the correct technology, it is possible to measure wireless ads through click-through rates. Much like marketers can do through traditional online advertising, they can use the information gleaned from this measurement to optimize the campaigns that they are running, discovering which ads are working on which sites, and which are not.
Online marketing will also broaden with the abilities to reach users through other devices. For example, enhanced-TV Web browsers will provide marketers with the ability to develop a profile on individual users as they surf the Web from home through their TV sets. Those same individuals may be watching a ball game and, based on their profiles, see a different ad targeted directly to them, superimposed on the backstop behind the hitter. I see this type of marketing being embraced after cell phones and PDAs, but not too far in the future — possibly in one year. Further down the road, but not so far that it could be considered science fiction (for, once again, the technology to do it exists today) is the ability to deliver ads via in-store kiosks, gas pumps and other platforms.
Much like it was six years ago, marketing is at another crossroads. But we are better off now than we were back then, partially because the technology has evolved so much, but mainly because some things never change — that is, regardless of the evolutions that marketers have faced throughout the decades, we’ve always managed to learn from and improve upon past experiences.
We saw how the first banner advertisers were the ones to ultimately prevail over desktop PCs. Likewise, it’ll be those daring souls who take a look at the wireless ad space and decide to test the waters sooner, rather than later, who will come out on top. The technology and the ability to target and measure is here, and it is working. Let’s all be the first in the pool.