MobiAD Archives


Promise of Mobile – Engagement Marketing

tomi_cover.gifTomi T Ahonen is a Hong Kong based author and consultant who worked previously for Nokia and mobile operator Elisa in Finland. He is a prolific writer, and his sixth book is entitled Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media.

In this opinion piece, Tomi talks about the 7 key benefits of mobile, the need for “engagement marketing”, and some of the advanced trends that he sees coming out of the Asian countries.


Many are perplexed by why mobile advertising has had only sluggish growth. The first mobile ads appeared soon after ringtone downloads and mobile games, back in 2000 on SMS in Finland. Music and gaming became billion dollar global industries but the promise of mobile advertising has remained elusive.

tomi_quote1.gifOver the past year we’ve seen more excitement with companies like AdMob and Blyk being in the news, but the concept often in mobile advertising is basic banner ads or spam SMS text messaging. These are copies of older media advertising, forced onto the small screen of the phone. We need to develop mobile ads that capitalize on the unique benefits of mobile as the 7th mass media channel.

Tomi at Vodafone Mobile Advertising Seminar (5/2008)

7 Unique Benefits of Mobile
When researching my latest book I started with a premise that mobile has four unique benefits that even the two most recent mass media channels were not able to replicate (TV was the fifth, and the internet was the sixth of the mass media). In my research and discussions with AMF Ventures, SMLXL and Xtract, I found that actually mobile has at least 7 unique benefits.

So the 7 unique benefits of mobile are:

  • mobile is the first personal mass media,
  • it is permanently carried,
  • it is always on,
  • it has a built-in payment mechanism,
  • it is the only media device always available at the point of inspiration (the cameraphone, CNN i-Report, mobile blogging, Twitter, Qik, etc),
  • mobile is the most accurate in measuring its audience (far more accurate than the internet even),
  • and only mobile captures the social context of media consumption.

These seven benefits give us a vast universe of tailoring mobile ads to be far more compelling than traditional advertising.

Engagement Marketing
Consider the banner ad, it is a copy of internet banner ads, which themselves are online variants of magazine and newspaper advertising. Banners are interruptive advertising. What we need is engagement marketing.

A great example is advergaming, where games are used as branded promotional vehicles. Mobile advergames were introduced in India and one of my favorite examples still is the Mount Everest climbing advergame by Coca Cola’s local Indian drink brand Thums Up.

tomi_thumsup.gifThe advergame was played by 350,000 users. Consider the difference of a banner that is ignored, or SMS spam which often generates hostile responses, or an advergame that is played by a third of a million people. This is our potential.

Advergames on mobile work because we always carry our phones with us and have plenty of “dead time” to fill.

User Co-created Advertising
So then we have user co-created advertising. This is the big innovation by Blyk in the UK. They have set up various methods for advertisers and brands to engage with the Blyk members and have an honest dialogue.

tomi_quote2.gifMost youth members will have a particular favorite celebrity, a particular favorite color, like a certain style of music, etc. Now a car brand or fashion brand can offer far more tailored advertising messages, than the focus-group tested ad variant of which color is most appealing and which celebrity and background music to use. The power of advertising is increased dramatically if we personalize the ads.

Blyk offers free minutes of calls and free text messages, in exchange for bombarding their customers with 6 mobile ads per day. You’d think the customers might hate the ads – but these are not annoying spam or interruptive banners on the tiny screen. Blyk does engagement marketing with co-created ads, and their response rate is 29%.

The single most expressed complaint by Blyk users is that they want more of the ads!

Asia Leads The Way
So where are we headed? I think we need to look at South Korea and Japan for the true innovations.

I have many excellent examples that I often talk about, from Northwest Airlines using 2D Barcodes in an interactive quiz game in Japan to Aircross in South Korea running a targeted mobile ad campaign for Gillette that achieved a 98% response rate (read MobiAD interview with AirCross CEO).

However, my best example today, is the Japanese snack foods brand Tohato, and their engagement marketing concept. Yes, it was another advergame.

tomi_habenero.gifBut what a game. Think of the addicted hard-core gamers on massively multiplayer fantasy wargames like World of Warcraft, Lineage 2 and Everquest, with literally millions of active gamers online. The multiplayer gaming activity is very compelling especially to young male adults – the kind of customer that the spicy snacks brand Tohato wanted to appeal to. So they launched the World’s Worst War campaign, as a mobile multiplayer online advergame.

Tohato launched two new extremely hot spiced snacks brands in Japan, Habanero and Satan Jorquia. Each package had a 2D barcode, and customers were invited to fight in the war by joining in the army for one or the other brand. And gamers who could recruit more gamers would be promoted in the army, so the game had a strong viral element.

tomi_satan.gifThe game ran for several months over 31 battlefields, and soon over 100,000 gamers were interacting daily in the game. The brand even provided a daily news service to report on the war – who had been promoted, who had died bravely etc. The game generated such passionate involvement that gamers would collect at social networking sites like Mixi and Facebook to plan their strategies for the upcoming battle.

These customers were truly engaged with the brand, through their mobile phones.

Mobile Is Unique
tomi_headshot.gifEvery economically viable consumer on the planet carries a mobile phone today. It is the last thing we look at when going to sleep at night, and the first thing we look at when we wake up in the morning. We literally take the phone to the bathroom with us. We look at the phone screen on average every 11 minutes. This is not only the widest-reaching media, it is the most intensely involving media.

Don’t try to copy the internet onto the phone. The phone is as different from the internet as TV was from radio. If you develop compelling advertising concepts for mobile using its benefits, you will succeed.


About the author
Tomi T Ahonen is a Hong Kong based author and consultant who used to work for Nokia and Elisa in Finland who blogs at www.Communities-Dominate.blogs.com. His sixth book is entitled Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media, and can be purchased on Amazon or on the FutureText site.

The 7 Mass Media

1st mass media: Print – 1500
2nd mass media: Sound Recordings – 1900
3rd mass media: Cinema – 1910
4th mass media: Radio – 1920
5th mass media: TV – 1950
6th mass media: Internet – 1995
7th mass media: Mobile – 2000


01.10.2008    Tags: ,
del.icio.us
Interested in Mobile Marketing and Mobile Commerce?
Subscribe to MobiAD News
Get the newsletter!

Subscribe to MobiAD