Advertisers mobilise to put message in your palm

In much of the rest of the world mobile marketing has blossomed. But here in the Middle East, companies and brands have been slow to catch on. That may be about to change.
Mobile marketing ranges from advertising on mobile websites and applications to SMS blasts and campaigns that use Bluetooth. Delores Johnson / The National
Mobile marketing ranges from advertising on mobile websites and applications to SMS blasts and campaigns that use Bluetooth. Delores Johnson / The National

Visa once ran a mobile-advertising campaign that featured divers in the shark-filled waters of the Dubai Mall aquarium.

The divers held up a banner that encouraged shoppers to activate the Bluetooth function on their smartphones, allowing Visa to send out more than 80,000 advertising messages.

But despite the success of that campaign, most Middle East advertisers are just dipping their toes in the water when it comes to mobile marketing.

The average person glances at their mobile 150 times a day, according to the industry consultant Tomi Ahonen.

Yet, while most of us are glued to our mobiles, Middle East advertisers are still opting for more traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio.

"We know our consumers are using smartphones. We should be talking to them - it's a medium that is with them 24-7," says Sagar Shetty, the co-founder of the digital company Clique Media in Dubai.

"But it's very under-utilised as a medium, especially in the Middle East. We're not even scratching the surface yet."

Mobile marketing takes several forms - from advertising on mobile websites and applications to SMS blasts and campaigns that use Bluetooth.

In the Middle East and Africa, spending on mobile advertising, excluding SMS marketing, is forecast to be worth just US$3.1 million (Dh11.3m) this year. That is a mere statistical blip given the Arab world's advertising industry is worth almost $5 billion.

Mr Shetty, whose company runs a mobile-ad network called Plus 7, acknowledges it is still early days for the industry.

"We're not even on the media plan. That needs to change," he says

But times will change and Mr Shetty expects the industry to grow, which could see more campaigns making a splash in the UAE.

The Visa campaign, from 2009, was partly developed by the media agency OMD Dubai.

Jassim Ali, the regional director for digital development at Omnicom Media Group, the parent company of OMD Dubai, says the Dubai Mall aquarium campaign had a "novelty factor" in its use of mobile media.

"One of the busiest times at the Dubai Mall is late evening, when they feed the sharks," he says. "It was a clever little use of Bluetooth".

Despite the success of the Visa campaign, regional companies have yet to move into this new form of advertising.

"I think the digitally savvy brands in the region, such as the airlines and the hotel industry, seem to really latch on to the opportunity. But for the rest of the brands I think it's still early days," he says.

Although just $3.1m will be spent this year on mobile advertising in the Middle East and Africa, that is forecast to rise to $13.8m by 2016, according to eMarketer.

That still pales in comparison to worldwide spending on mobile advertising, which is expected to grow from $6.4bn this year to be worth $23.6bn by 2016.

Notable campaigns globally include one for Coca-Cola that allowed users to send a free can of Coke to a stranger in a foreign country via a special mobile application.

Special vending machines in cities such as New York and Cape Town served the free drinks and allowed the recipients to send a video message thanking the sender.

Mr Ali has great expectations for mobile advertising in the Middle East.

"I think most brands recognise the power of the medium," he says. "Mobile has the potential to be a dominant medium because it's the one medium that stays with the person every waking hour. It's the most personal of devices."

Publishers in the Middle East report low levels of interest in mobile advertising but they expect this to take off in the future.

Will Breitholtz, the digital director at the 7DAYS newspaper in Dubai, says about 8 per cent of the title's online traffic is through mobile browsers, not accounting for access via smartphone applications.

"Monetising it is the key thing," he says. "From our perspective, I don't see an awful lot of it. [But] I think mobile revenues will come good. We see potential, otherwise we wouldn't be investing."

Reda Raad, the regional chief operating officer for the advertising agency TBWARaad, points out more people now research products using their smartphones, offering a great opportunity for advertisers.

"Mobile advertising has changed the way consumers shop. Smartphones are critical shopping tools with 84 per cent [of users] having researched a product or service on their device," says Mr Raad.

"Some of our biggest clients are advertising on mobile devices, such as GE, Masafi, Nissan, Standard Charted Bank and Visa, and many more are in the pipeline."

But one factor holding back mobile advertising is what Mr Raad calls the "SMS stigma". Too many people associate mobile marketing with being bombarded with text messages but the medium offers more than that, he says.

"Most people associate mobile adverting with SMS campaigns but it is so much more," Mr Raad says.

"We need to raise consumer awareness as smartphones have become an indispensable part of our daily lives."

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Published: August 16, 2012 04:00 AM


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