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Another stab at mobile advertising: coupons

We can’t imagine how much time is wated spent every day by people in board rooms dreaming up new ways to advertise on mobile phones. After all, it’s a hot new medium, ripe for polluting. The earliest model was paying customers to view ads, but we saw and continue to see this as an entry ground, not something that will last for a long time. The new thing in mobile advertising has been coupons, which are sent via text message to willing customers. So while they don’t get free cell minutes, they do get discounts at various restaurants and retailers. It’s a decent step forward, we suppose, but it still has a long way before it catches on.

The main perpetrator in this new medium is Cellfire. They make coupons available to people who opt-in to their program, either via text message or their website. Electronic coupons are then sent to them, which they can use at their convenience.

To ensure that you receive only coupons in which you might be interested, Cellfire has a questionnaire when you sign up. This will identify your age and location, so that you won’t receive a coupon for a seafood restaurant in San Francisco if you live in New York.

Certain conveniences, however, are unavailable at the moment. For instance, the cashier has to take your cell phone and view the coupon in order to redeem it. There is no way at the moment to send the coupon to the cash register, though that’s probably more the fault of dated registers than of the coupon system. And no, they cannot scan your cell phone screen — we had a friend try that at Borders once and it failed miserably.

The list of companies providing coupons includes Virgin Megastores, Hollywood Video, Domino’s, and Quiznos.

One big challenge for marketers contemplating cellphone advertising is to figure out how much and what kind of advertising will be tolerated by consumers. While marketers have long felt little compunction about saturating airwaves, print media and billboards with advertising messages, they are conscious that some consumers feel cellphones are personal space. That is prompting advertisers to tread more carefully in the new medium.

Hey, we view TV as a personal space, yet we are invaded every 15 or 20 minutes. We think this is a preliminary precaution, since the medium is highly untested. However, once time moves along, we think that the interruption ads we see on TV will be incorporated into cell phones. Which, of course, will cause us to throw ours across the room in frustration.

Once again, a decent idea in theory, and this might even work in practice. However, we don’t see this kind of advertising lasting for very long. Marketers don’t pay individuals to view their web ads, so what’s to suggest this will be any different down the road in mobile advertising?

[The Wall Street Journal]