Marketing on wireless devices will offer users a mixed bag of advantages, drawbacks

A trend that will in all likelihood hit the wireless world with force throughout 2001 is the concept of advertising on mobile devices. With so many people now toting increasingly sophisticated belt-huggers around, and with that number to do nothing but keep rising in the years ahead, advertisers and manufacturers alike are drooling over the monetary possibilities of ads being displayed on them.

If the thought of yet more pitches for everything from restaurants to routers in a society already satiated with hucksterism is enough to make you sick, take heart: there are some potential benefits. But first the bad news.

The ads are coming. And they aren’t your old-school, “furniture-blowout”-type things we’ve been seeing and hearing for decades on traditional forms of media like radio and TV. These ones are ingenious in their use of new technology. Through the use of Global Systems for Mobile communications, or GSM, technology, for instance, advertisers can track where you are and deliver a timely ad to your cell phone based on previously collected records of your shopping habits.

Imagine, if you will, walking by a pop machine, carrying your cell phone. As you approach it, you notice an ad appear on your phone’s display screen – it’s for that brand of pop you just bought the other day from another machine with your cell phone (another mobility trend that’s on the way). Thanks to GSM, the advertiser knows where you are and how close you are to its product. Time to tempt the hapless user with an offering for another one, regardless of whether that user is thirsty or not.

While implementation of such Big-Brother-ish tactics might be a year or more down the road, more rudimentary handheld advertising is already upon us. Down in North Carolina, for example, the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes are beaming ads to mobile users in an attempt to help put some more keesters in the seats of its usually cavernous rink. The ads give users the ability to click on an icon and be connected via wireless voice technology to the Hurricanes’ ticket sales department. The results of such advertising are yet to be seen, but hopefully for the Hurricanes’ sake, they will be better than the results they’ve seen on the ice.

While this is going on, New York-based DoubleClick Inc. said it plans to begin trial runs of mobile ads in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston early next year in order to test whether users will accept the idea. Whether they will or not appears to hinge on just what kind of perks they’ll receive in return for such bombardments.

Now the potentially good news.

Realizing that users won’t accept ads on handheld devices without some form of kickback, advertisers and handheld manufacturers appear willing to provide incentives. These could take the form of free air time or the ability to get useful information on their device, such as the location of a restaurant, without being charged a fee.

Whether such trade-offs will make handheld advertising a success or not is still an open question. Nobody seemed too upset when advertising began appearing on the walls of public washrooms, a form of marketing that offers no perks to the person subjected to them. Nor does anyone get in much of a kafuffle about slogans on the back of bank machine receipts or hockey tickets.

Perhaps the handheld form of advertising could cause a large number of average citizens to rebel against the increasing amount of marketing they are asked to absorb in today’s world. Perhaps advertisers would have to retreat from such a tempting concept.

Given the aforementioned type of perks that are surely to be offered, however, this type of “wireless revolution” seems to be a very remote possibility.