Mobile advertising in Africa: a threat or an opportunity!

Digital Content

We carry it around with us wherever we go, it holds some of our most crucial and valuable information, it is our lifeline to the conveniences of constant connectivity -- but the cellphone is also becoming an effective advertising platform, introducing issues around privacy and consumer willingness.

Bluetooth technology is here to stay and with it comes a prime opportunity for speaking directly to consumers, but in an industry in which trust and perception are everything, how open are consumers to being targeted on such a personal device as a cellphone?

Media company Mobiblitz announced it would be rolling out Bluetooth hotspots at 72 major malls across the country. The technology is fantastic for advertisers and for stores within the mall, but being spammed by multiple messages every time one goes to a mall could heighten a consumer's irritation.

Mobiblitz claims it is aware of this and its co-founder, Stan Katz, insists that the technology is permission-based and does not invade consumers' privacy.

"We don't interact without permission," Katz says.

"If we did, this could end up going horribly wrong for us and for advertisers."

The promise is not to send more than two messages to a consumer on any given visit to the mall, and if consumers deny permission to receive an advert or content of some sort, they will not be prompted again.

Another growing concern is that viruses could be sent to phones that have their Bluetooth activated. While Mobiblitz claims there is no way a virus could be sent to one of its users, it has already received viruses from users, which are immediately quarantined.

"We've considered sending them back to the people who sent them, but that is not the way we work," Katz says jokingly.

Mediashop director Virginia Hollis says consumers are becoming increasingly wary of picking up viruses from unsolicited Bluetooth messages sent to their phones, which poses a threat to the future of Bluetooth as a medium.

There are, however, pros to using the technology and other mobile advertising mediums such as SMSs in that the campaigns are measurable and, in Mediashop's experience, have been well received, especially when they are done in tandem with other campaigns.

Most important , Hollis says, they have to be creative and should probably offer some form of a real incentive.

"If I am just receiving rubbish from an advertiser, with no real incentive to buy their product, I will just become peeved," she says, adding that retailers are going to be fighting a substantial battle in the future and are going to have to offer "real value" to consumers.

"Money is tight due to increased interest rates, and the outlook for retailers such as those selling furniture or clothing is going to get tough," she says.

Bluetooth could be a good point-of-sale opportunity to communicate offers.

It also appears there is a growing market in Bluetooth consumers. Mobiblitz found that over a period of one week, in 72 malls, there were 250000 customers with Bluetooth switched on and ready to receive content: a vast increase compared with when the technology was first introduced to SA three years ago.

An added bonus is that because most in-mall advertising research measures only how many customers have entered the mall , it is difficult to tell whether they are new customers or whether it is the same person walking back and forth.

Katz says the technology does not allow the mall or Mobiblitz to see consumers' cellphone numbers, nor can it extract personal information without the owners' permission. Rather, he says, the Bluetooth system builds a relationship with the phone.

The signal first "sniffs" for Bluetooth handsets. It can see what type of handset is being used and its capabilities and can reformat content specifically for that phone. It then tracks the handset to gain understanding of what adverts are chosen or how often content is downloaded.

Business Day