19 August 2010

Who "owns" Mobile?

Smartphones will eclipse feature phones as a percentage of the U.S. mobile device population by the end of 2011. Clients are discovering smartphone apps that offer an opportunity to engage and continue consumer relationships. Agencies each want to be the one to help their clients leverage these apps. All kinds of agencies: traditional, new breed, media and of course digital.

Which agencies own Mobile?

First we ought to properly frame the question. An AdAge.com article this week took the view that "creative agencies" and "media agencies" are fighting over the right to "own" Mobile. Apparently they put digital agencies into the "creative" category, which is fine as far as it goes.

It doesn't go far enough, however. Missing from the discussion is retail. Some promotion and shopper marketing agencies are starting to create mobile apps for their clients, and retailers themselves are developing programs in which their vendors - uh, partners - can buy into - uh, participate. One example described in Tuesday's NYTimes.com is Shopkick, currently backed by Macy's and four other retailers.

The gigantic Venn diagram

The landscape of agencies, clients and retailers is more complicated than just "creative" and "media" agencies. This shouldn't surprise us in an era where all available marketing channels form a gigantic Venn diagram that shifts and overlaps in new ways every week. We've observed this before (here and here) and in a way it's the point of this blog.

Asking who owns mobile is like asking who owns television: the agency who develops a 30" commercial, the agency who plans or buys, the network or station, the program developer or the cable service provider.

It's the same with mobile. Someone has to decide there's an opportunity to engage consumers via a mobile device. Someone has to develop the app or ad. Someone has to figure out the way to engage the consumer, which in some cases will be a display media buy and other cases something resembling word of mouth marketing.

Mobile survival guide

There are two implications here:

Who knows Mobile? Clients won’t ask which agency owns Mobile, they’ll ask who knows Mobile. If you’re an agency person, worry less about whether you should handle Mobile and more about whether you’re prepared to handle it.

Mobile is not a silo. This actually applies to all disciplines, but you can’t treat Mobile or anything else as its own discipline. It has to be considered as a strategic option from the beginning, and made part of the plan if and only if the business solution demands it. Planned that way, it will work well together with advertising, digital and retail.


  1. Great piece. I'm biased but I 100% agree that Retail will be an important stake-holder in mobile (especially location based mobile).

    I recently blogged a primer about location based marketing for retailers here: http://retailgeek.com/2010/08/19/what-shopper-marketers-need-to-know-about-location-based-marketing/

    Keep up the great coverage!

    Jason aka retailgeek

  2. I agree with Jason aka retailgeek that retail is indeed going to be (or already is) a pivotal context for mobile engagement. But I associate platform adoption with the simplest, most basic value proposition - consumer self interest.

    We do what works without hurdles. And mobile is getting to be intrinsically valuable as an every day platform filled with fun, useful and relevant devices that deliver excellent experiences.

    Let's start from the fact that talking on a phone has always given us value. Now that the phones are "smart" and the networks are speedy, the rest just adds layers of value.

    Social mobile shopping with location aware offers and commerce to boot?! Sign me up!