One of the big themes at Mobile Content World was ad-supported content?it?s generally accepted that mobile advertising will occur, the discussion is now around how much there will be, how it will be delivered and how much it will subsidize content and services. Anil Sabharwal, chief marketing office of MobiK, gave a good talk on mobile advertising and quoted that Google CEO Eric Schmidt that the phone should be completely free?advertising should subsidize the handset, the voice calls, the SMS, the content, evereything. It left me thinking that if everything was free, who would pay for advertising? After all, the whole point of advertising is to get people to spend money?if the consumer isn?t buying things no-one will have money to advertise. Sure, there will be advertisers from outside the industry, but if Starbucks ever decides to give away coffee in exchange for reading ads we?ll be in big trouble.
MobiK has just launched an ad-supported free SMS service, so it?s clearly going the free route, but it seems the industry is currently torn between those who want to charge customers through the nose for content (pay for every ?channel?, for example) and those who want to make everything absolutely free. There is a middle ground that will find customers paying a reasonable amount for a lot of high quality content supported by a reasonable amount of advertising?the companies which find this middle ground will prosper, because I think that will be the mass market. Fully-paid ?premium? services and completely free ?ad-supported? services will be niche markets.
But that was just an issue that was raised by a small part of Sabharwal?s talk, and which applies to a lot of comments and positions I?ve heard?Sabharwal answered a question from the audience by admitting that some people won?t like a lot of advertising and will choose to use an ad-free premium service. Most of Sabharwal?s talk was about mobile marketing both from a ?targeted? perspective and a ?captured audience? perspective. He said a mobile ad was a guaranteed single impression, for example if there is an ad before a news story ?we have to scroll to get the news, the first thing I get is the ad and I usually have to read it to make sure it?s not the news?. I?m not sure that will keep customers happy in the long run, and Sabharwal went on to say that the challenge is advertising to people without annoying them. ?The problems is balance, how do you make sure both the users and advertisers are happy? WIthout the users the advertisers don?t care, and without the advertisers you can?t provide the content to the users,? he said.