Wireless Text Ads Hold Their Own Against Rich Media

While some wireless marketers look to rich media as the future of wireless advertising, others claim they are already achieving decent response rates with simple text messages.

“Graphics can be very effective, but it's not to say that text ads aren't effective. We have had a huge response rate on ads that are text-based,” said Lauren Bigelow, vice president of marketing at SkyGo, Redwood City, CA. One SkyGo pilot text ad boasted a 50 percent recall rate, and nearly 3 percent of those who viewed the ad purchased the product.

A text campaign by fusionOne, San Jose, CA, achieved a similar reaction to its Net2Phone promotion. FusionOne sent this message to 400 of its users: “Act now and get up to 1,500 minutes FREE with Net2Phone Calling Cards. Rates as low as 3.9c a minute for U.S. and 7.9c a minute Intl. Call 1-877-627-2255.”

Six percent of recipients of the wireless ad called Net2Phone, and 68 percent of those who called purchased a calling card.

ESPN, Ford and other sponsors of wireless text alerts during the March Madness college basketball tournament also garnered a high response rate, according to Dan Ballister, vice president for advertising sales at InfoSpace, Bellevue, WA. Wireless carriers delivered the latest scores and standings of the user's favorite team as soon as the game ended.

However, other wireless firms say the use of graphics and rich media in wireless ads is necessary for the medium to gain widespread consumer acceptance. “From an advertiser's point of view, it's hard to get enthusiastic about text,” said Adam Zawel, an analyst at the Mobile Commerce Group of Yankee Group, Boston.

“I don't think text-only ads would be effective,” said Mike Aufricht, general manager at AvantGo Mobile Internet, San Mateo, CA. AvantGo's click-through rates for text ads that link to another, graphic-rich page on personal digital assistants have been five times higher than those on the Web. For example, AvantGo's spring promotion with CompUSA, a text link that jumped to a mobile coupon redeemable at CompUSA stores, garnered 40,000 click throughs out of 2 million messages sent.

Cell phones do not provide the same level of user interface as PDAs, which allow for interactive, graphic-rich promotions, according to Aufricht. “I think that when the advertising agencies spend more time thinking about mobile advertising, we will see more interesting and creative executions, which will take the medium to the next level,” he added.

WindWire, Morrisville, NC, and go2 Systems, a wireless location-based ad service, recently teamed up to test a variety of location-based text and graphic ads. WindWire's technology identifies either the graphic or text capabilities of cell phones, pagers and PDAs, then delivers ads in the appropriate formats.

InfoSpace and ActiveSky, San Mateo, CA, are developing technology to deliver graphics and pictures to all types of wireless phones. They also are working to deliver rich media wireless ads.

“The next step in the evolution of our broadband capabilities is 2.5G and 3G wireless, in which we plan to provide a clear path from offering data services to delivery of rich media,” said Naveen Jain, chairman/CEO of InfoSpace.

New phone models also are expected to increase the use of ads with graphics. Ericsson, Kyocera and others have introduced combination wireless application protocol-enabled Palm devices and wireless phones, which feature larger and more graphic-rich screens than cell phones.

Sprint PCS introduced a phone with a full-color screen in late March. The screen is 2 inches wide, like other wireless phones, but it allows users more options, such as downloading digital color photos via the wireless Web.

However, wireless analysts point out, significantly increased transmission speeds and development of third-generation systems will be required in order for rich media ads to be delivered. The 3G systems will increase data transmission speeds to 100 kilobytes per second, from the current 28 kilobytes to 50 kilobytes per second.

However, 3G deployment in the United States is at least three years off, according to Ben Macklin, senior analyst for broadband and wireless at eMarketer, New York.

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