Everything is coming together – demand, technology, professional skills. And Flash technology has created a great opportunity for companies to use handheld devices as marketing tools. Damien Bové thinks 2006 is the year to embrace mobile advertising 

Ten years ago, ‘mobile marketing’ meant advertising that was applied to the sides of cars and vans which were driven around city centres to generate interest. Since the advent of the mobile phone revolution, though, it is virtually impossible to imagine mobile marketing without handheld devices.
Mobile phones are no longer just devices for phone calls and text messaging but portals that consumers can use to communicate, gather information, be entertained and organise their lives.
But despite the fact that mobile phone ownership now considerably outnumbers landline usage, it has been overlooked and particularly undervalued as an opportunity for direct interaction between a brand and its customers.
Since its inception companies have merely scratched the surface with this innovative marketing tool and have experimented with SMS marketing in order to engage with customers via text-to-win, text-for-info and text-for-coupon pilots.
Bombarding mobile phone users with unsolicited ‘nuisance’ messages, though, has created a serious misconception about the legality of mobile advertising – and for many this view still prevails.
However, some designers have unlocked its true innovative potential to ensure that mobile advertising is now able to deliver much more than a simple SMS campaign that companies can exploit to deliver brands in people’s pockets.
Technologies such as J2ME and WAP have presented openings for brands to promote their products, but disappointingly haven’t managed to deliver anything near what they had promised to the mobile marketeer.
Things could be about to change, however.
Adobe (formerly Macromedia) has released a Flash Lite player built specifically for mobile devices. Over the past 18 months Adobe have announced deals with the top five handset manufacturers, which will see the player pre-installed on to phones. With a massive 4Gb hard drive and the potential to be an iPod killer, the recently-launched Nokia N91 is the first in a wave of handsets enabled with Flash Lite out of the box.
So how is Flash Lite going to succeed where others have failed? Let’s look at WAP. WAP has been proved to be slow, difficult to use and therefore does little to create a desirable experience.
"Mobile marketing adds an interactive dimension that is unparalleled for immediacy …" 
The Java option
J2ME on the other hand is a real contender: it’s powerful, it has an estimated 20,000 developers, it has a few years on Flash Lite in the mobile arena, and it’s the de facto standard for games development.
On the downside, J2ME has a very fragmented landscape, and has a long development cycle, which is where Flash Lite comes into its own as development times can be cut from weeks to days.
Though not necessarily within the mobile space, Flash has an estimated 1,000,000 developers, and after nine years has a robust, mature development environment due to its sleek designs and superior sophistication compared to J2ME applications. Dynamic animated and rich graphics make Flash Lite the perfect choice for creating a truly engaging user experience.
Both tools have their place, but for marketing Flash Lite has a real edge. Experience matters, and in the fast-moving world of mobile marketing shorter development times mean lower costs and faster reaction time.
Flash Lite has been used in Japan for the past 3 years, and in that time has moved from animated wallpapers to become a core tool for the content business. In April 2006 NTT DoCoMo, a major mobile provider, passed the 2m subscribers mark for its i-channel service which uses the Flash Lite player.
Although it is in its infancy, mobile advertising is set to become a lucrative source of revenue for both network operators and brand owners. New technologies such as Flash Lite enable brand owners to communicate directly with young consumers.
Targeting 18-24 year olds through media such as print is becoming increasingly difficult and this is where the mobile marketing channel can make a real difference.
Although they are the most lucrative consumer sector of mobile phones, the new generation of 18 to 24 year olds are highly sophisticated, critical and increasingly cynical. Because they are able to shut out anything remotely resembling spam, it is essential that any communications aimed directly into their pockets are innovative, imaginative and relevant otherwise they won’t opt in to receive this service.
At a time when we are constantly exposed to brands everywhere we go, mobile marketing can be a ubiquitous device for the marketing industry as it adds an interactive dimension that is unparalleled for immediacy.
With mobile phones continuing to exceed everyone’s expectations and mobile advertising set to launch into the mainstream in 2007, agencies and others need to realise that they cannot afford to ignore this marketing tool for much longer.
Damien Bové is commercial director of start-up company Pocket Marketing 
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