A sales pitch in your pocket?

It's easy to see why the marketing community is so excited about gaining access to cell phones

Guidelines may not sound like much protection, but individual marketing and cell phone companies have good reason to comply with them: "We want to be able to self-govern," Styers says, In other words, they'd like to forestall additional regulation. Furthermore, all text messages must go through aggregators. Unlike in Europe, the few aggregators in the United States are all MMA members.

But it appears that the MMA's mandate ends with text messaging--and in the opinion of Charles Golvin, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, "text messaging is only one of the channels in which one would receive marketing materials on the phone."

More and more phones now come with browsers, and a so-called mobile Web of sites optimized for phone browsers is developing. "If you browse the mobile Web on your phone, you can expect to see more interstitial and banner ads," Golvin says. (Interstitial ads precede or follow content that you've requested.)

Content sponsorship is gaining in popularity, too. Greystripe's GameJump Web site offers free games for cell phones--but whenever you play, you'll see an ad before you start the game and another when you finish it. The main issue for customers: Downloading the ads may swell your data bill.

Going where you are

Mobile search sites are poised to provide sponsored results based on the assumption that when you search for certain keywords, you're probably looking to buy. "Search for pizza, and you're going to get the best matches for pizza parlors--maybe even localized to where you are," Golvin says.

Not surprisingly, carriers are gearing up to benefit from these opportunities. Verizon, for example, employs technology designed by Medio Systems to help customers search through Verizon's ring tones, games, and images. But at least some cell phone customers may not realize that they're searching only Verizon's content, not the whole Internet. "When using the WAP search built into the home Deck [menu] of their carrier, it's less clear what they're searching," Golvin explains.

But while carriers want to share in marketing revenues, they also have to be mindful of their customers to avoid losing them to the competition. "In general, your carrier will be your advocate," Golvin says. For example, most carriers block unsavory Web sites because they want to be perceived as family-friendly.

How annoying and costly will mobile marketing become? It's largely up to you. Ask your carrier about the privacy policies governing its offerings, and check your data and messaging plans to ensure that downloads and messaging costs don't bloat your bill. You may still receive targeted ads, but at least you'll know why.

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Yardena Arar

PC World
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