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Phonevalley/Publicis Moving Mobile To The “Strategic Level”
An Interview with Alexandre Mars
CEO of Phonevalley and Head of Mobile at Publicis

alex_180×180.gifIn 2001 Alexandre Mars created Phonevalley to provide advertisers with engaging mobile marketing solutions. In 2007, he sold Phonevalley to Publicis, one of the world’s largest advertising groups.

Publicis has historically been very aggressive in the digital space (18% of Publicis Group revenues are from digital compared to the average 7% for holding agencies), and they are now moving seriously into mobile.

In this interview, Alexandre talks about current trends he sees in mobile advertising, his favorite mobile campaign, and what developments he sees coming in the near future.

Publicis Center of Excellence

Today Alexandre wears two hats – CEO of Phonevalley, and also Head of Mobile for the Publicis Group. He explains, “The acquisition was very complimentary – Publicis realized that someday mobile will be an important part of digital. Even though it may be a small market today, it will be bigger and bigger.”

alex_publicis_logo2.gif“So we are brand agnostic – we work for all the Publicis brands – Starcom MediaVest, Zenith Optimedia, Digitas, Modem, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Leo Burnett. The key thing is that once you build the mobile expertise and the mobile platform, it’s really easy to scale that for every country and for every brand.”

Phonevalley is a ‘full service’ agency, and Alexandre explains that they work with clients and local Publicis agencies in 5 main aspects of mobile advertising:
1 – consulting and setting mobile strategy
2 – concepts and ideas generation
3 – building the mobile web site or application
4 – hosting
5 – planning and buying the media.

“This is a really broad area of expertise, we call it a 360º service.”

“Glocal” Strategy

Phonevalley has 10 offices globally at the moment – US, Russia, India, China, Singapore, UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy – and they work with local Publicis agencies in many more countries. Phonevalley has developed what they call a “Glocal” strategy – meaning a combination of global plus local.

alex_glocal.gif“More and more of our clients are saying that mobile is great, but they need to work on a pan-European campaign, or on a regional basis, or even a global one. Our worldwide reach is why we can work easily with big global companies such as Google, Nokia, Yahoo!.”

On the other hand, Phonevalley understands that each individual market has very distinct characteristics that must be taken into account of when planning and executing a mobile campaign. “In some countries you have mobile internet first, in some you have mobile applications, some use shortcodes, some don’t, etc. So clients also require local expertise.”

It is this combination of central Phonevalley expertise along with the numerous Publicis offices around the world that let’s Phonevalley offer this “Glocal” capability.

Mobile is moving to the “Strategic Level”

Alexandre believes that 2009 will in fact be “the year of mobile advertising”. Two of his reasons are quite well known and widely shared: the first is the growing availability of flat data rates, and the second is the improved capabilities of mobile handsets. But his third reason provides a very interesting agency perspective – he sees that mobile advertising is moving to the “strategic level” within brands.

“The fact is that many clients have done their testing, and now want to move onto a more strategic level. Some clients are still on a project basis, but more and more are bringing mobile in at the strategic level, saying ‘what can mobile do for me? how do I link it to my online strategy? what can be the outcome of that?’ ”

Phonevalley’s acquisition by Publicis also helps them take advantage of this movement to the strategic level. Alexandre explains why: “to make this work, you have to talk with the decision makers in a brand . You need to make them understand that mobile is really valuable, and not just part of digital.”

“At first you have to talk to the CMO to show them it really works, and being part of Publicis we are able to get in and talk to CMO’s. This is one of the reasons I started looking for a partner for Phonevalley 18 months ago”.

Your mobile site is your FlagShip

Although Phonevalley works with many different mobile ad formats, Alexandre puts an especially strong focus on mobile sites and mobile applications. He goes on to explain his views of these.

“We believe you will do different things through mobile sites and mobile applications.”

alex_quote2.gif“The WAP site is most important, it’s the first step. Without that, you can’t have a mobile strategy. The mobile site is for branding like any internet site – it can support showing trailers, downloading applications, having customers enter their information, etc. Its really the flagship for your mobile advertising.”

“After the mobile site it is mobile applications – they could be iPhone apps, Yahoo! Go applications, or Android applications. Mobile applications are definitely concept ads, there must be an idea behind it. If you don’t have a great idea no one will use it.”

The Puma Campaign for Euro2008

alex_puma_logo.gifI asked Alexandre to tell us something about one of his favorite campaigns. “Concepts and ideas are becoming more and more critical in mobile advertising, it is what makes the difference. And a very good example of this is the campaign we ran for Puma for the Euro 2008 football championship.”

Puma is a sponsor for several teams from different countries in the European football championship. They wanted a pan-European campaign that would let football fans voice their pride and joy as part of the build-up to this major sports event.

Alexandre explains how they approached the project: “we talked with other digital agencies working with Puma to come up with some new concepts. We realized that what people would really like is to be in a room watching the games with their best friends. Since we couldn’t actually do that, we thought how could mobile help?”

So Phonevalley came up with “Together Everywhere” service. The idea was that every time their favorite team scores, PUMA will call the supporters that have signed up for the service on their mobile and instantly let them take part in a teleconference with their friends, whether in the stadium, out in the street, in a pub or in front of the television.


Phonevalley built a new WAP site for the campaign to let users register their phone number, chose their favorite team, and enter the phone numbers of up to 10 of their friends.

Then, during the competition, whenever their team scored, Puma would immediately places calls to each supporter and their registered friends. First they would each hear a 10-second sponsor message, and then the system would connect them all together in a conference call, so that they could discuss the goal and share the emotion of the moment. And Puma would pay for the first 2 minutes of the call.

And for those people who don’t have many friends, “Together Everywhere” could instead connect them with other fans of the same team.

Puma also made ringtones available with each country’s song which could be assigned to special incoming phone numbers so that the subscribers would know a goal had been scored and the incoming call was a Puma “Together Everywhere” call. Finally, to add some direct sales impact to the campaign, Puma also sent the participants an SMS discount coupon when the conference calls were completed.

alex_conceptquote.gifTo drive traffic to the WAP site and encourage participation, ZenithOptimedia and Zed Digital designed a wide-ranging media plan involving the press, posters and the web, and including banners, sms, shortcodes, and mobile search.

This campaign ran in 13 countries for 45 days, and Alexandre had this to say about the impact: “this is the kind of campaign where clients just say Wow, now I understand the relevancy of mobile – I couldn’t do this on TV, with billboards, online, or with any other media channel”.

But Alexandre is also quick to point out that no matter how powerful the concept, in order to make it work you need to be able to effectively execute on all the basics of mobile advertising – including banners, shortcodes, sms, wap, etc – in many different countries, each of which may have different telco capabilities, regulations, and customer patterns.

So both concept and execution are crucial.

Mobile Advertising Challenges

I asked Alexandre what challenges he saw facing the mobile advertising industry at the moment. He had an interesting answer.

“Two years ago, this was an easy question to answer, I would have said the biggest impediment is the attitude of mobile operators. Especially in the US with their walled gardens it was a real problem. But now most of them have changed and they are eager to work with us to bring in clients.”

Instead, lack of effective measurement seems to be one of the biggest issues now, in a number of different ways. “We always try to get our clients to add a measurement piece to all the campaigns we run, but it doesn’t always happen. And it would be really great if we could get the information we need from operators, like the project the GSMA is working on. Also, many of today’s ad networks have real difficulty linking to our systems. We still receive excel files from some of them!”

The Future

alex_small_pix.gifThe final topic we discussed was the future of mobile advertising. Alexandre said there were three thing he expects to see in the coming months.

“First, by the end of 2010, I think that 2/3 of all big brands will have completed their WAP sites. We have been pushing this for a long time, and now more and more clients are asking for them.”

“Second, I think you’ll see that location based services will happen in the next 6 months – we are working hard on it.”

“Finally, this year I think you will see a few campaigns above the US$ 1 million level, which will be really interesting for the market. It won’t be for a single project, rather it will be a strategic commitment of money at the budget allocation phase. As mobile moves to the “strategic level”, this type of funding becomes possible.”


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