Debate waged over the future of wireless ads

Will consumers ever willingly accept advertising sent to them over wireless handheld devices?

          Will consumers ever willingly accept advertising sent to them over wireless handheld devices?

          The answer is yes, say advertising agencies, makers of the devices and companies looking to advertise products — that is, as long as the ads are matched with some inducements, such as free voice or data airtime or instant information, like directions to the nearest train station.

          "Corporations will drool over advertising to wireless devices," says Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing.

          But some analysts and users say they aren’t as optimistic about the prospects for wireless ads.

          A big obstacle for advertisers in the US, Reiter say , is that US users must pay airtime for anything sent to them.

          To overcome this problem, carriers need to adopt policies such as "calling party pays" or flat rates that make receiving ads more palatable, he says.

          But as the debate rages on, wireless advertising is becoming a bigger reality than ever in the US.

          On November 6, DoubleClick said it plans to begin trial runs of mobile ads in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston early next year to gauge user acceptance. SkyGo is also conducting through year’s end a wireless advertising trial over 1000 cellphones in Boulder, Colorado. And Jiffy Lube International has begun offering digital coupons to wireless users.

          WindWire is already delivering wireless advertising to mobile users on behalf of clients such as the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes franchise. The ads let handheld users view the previous day’s hockey score and the time of the next game, then click on an icon to be connected via wireless voice to a ticket sales agent.

          Howard Sadel, director of new media for the Hurricanes, says it’s too early to tell how ticket sales will be affected, since the wireless advertising only began in September. But WindWire executives say they believe wireless advertising, while objectionable to some users, will eventually help keep the costs of airtime and wireless content down.

          On November 8, wireless device manufacturer Ericsson released a study of 5000 users in its home country of Sweden. Consumers received more than 100,000 messages based on their profiles. In return for the ads, users got free short-message service for their phones.

          The consumers were receptive to advertising messages, remembered product names and responded to pitches, according to the study. More than 60% of the trial users say they liked receiving ads targeted to their profile, and 20% sought more information after seeing the ads, according to Ericsson.

          The findings might hold true in the US as well. International Data Corporation recently conducted focus group studies of mobile users and found that "people are very open to internet and wireless advertising as long as there is a free service" or other inducement, says analyst Callie Nelsen.

          But there are critics of wireless advertising.

          David Donnell, an internist in private practice, uses a wireless service to send prescription refills to pharmacies. He says he is willing to pay $US50 a month for the service from ePhysician rather than use a free service that has ads.

          "It’s a trade-off that I’ve made," he says. "In 10 years, I’ve never learned anything from a pharmaceutical ad."

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