Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Here Come the Ads, over Your Cellphone ; to Cater to a Mobile Society, Marketers May Call You to Pitch a Sale. Is This a Revolution - or an Outrage?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Here Come the Ads, over Your Cellphone ; to Cater to a Mobile Society, Marketers May Call You to Pitch a Sale. Is This a Revolution - or an Outrage?

Article excerpt

Satellite surveillance and high-tech communication gadgets aren't just for government spooks anymore.

These days, you can take a cellphone spiked with a few special circuits, and locate anyone, anywhere on the planet, anytime, to within 25 feet. It might seem an Orwellian nightmare. But it's also a marketer's dream.

The military's global positioning system (GPS) has been put to civilian use for a few years now - helping lost motorists, for example, find their way with blinking maps on fancy car consoles. But as mobile devices become more advanced, able to receive rich text and video images, many marketers see them as part of the new frontier of advertising.

Indeed, with the mobile-phone market exploding - over half the US adult population carries mobile phones - it was only a matter of time before advertisers found a way to push their products through devices ever at their targets' sides.

"It's the dream out there about GPS," says Rich Person, a managing partner of Direct and Interactive Marketing at Mullen, a Massachusetts communications agency. "It's the soccer mom, picking up her kids, and she gets into the car and she gets a discount ad targeting her for McDonald's, just as the kids are finishing up practice."

It may not happen anytime soon, but some forecast that wireless advertising will be part of a multibillion-dollar mobile landscape in the near future. Industry watchers have already coined "m- commerce" and "m-advertising" to describe sales related to mobile online services, and these could account for more than $25 billion in revenues by 2005, according to Forrester Research, a Massachusetts-based tech firm.

Technology and advertising have long been allied, of course, and much of American pop culture was shaped by mass-market jingles and well-crafted brands. Today, e-mail and Amazon.com shape culture with computer cookies and personalized, targeted ads.

Welcome to the world of 'wam'

But mention phones and marketing, and most people gnash their teeth at the thought of telemarketers who always seem to call just when dinner's served. And with text-messaging the hottest thing in mobile phones, many worry that "wam" - wireless spam - will be the next addition to the digital lexicon.

Last year, Rep. Rush Holt (D) of New Jersey resubmitted his Wireless Telephone Spam Protection Act, which would allow users to sue "wammers" for $500 per transmission, and slap repeat violators with penalties up to $1,500 per incident. Most in the industry find the bill premature, since wireless advertising is only in the crudest stages. Before people toting phones into buses and restaurants find themselves wammed, advertisers must overcome significant barriers.

"The primary thing is the notion of privacy," says Subimal Chatterjee, associate professor of marketing at the State University of New York at Binghamton. …

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