Mobile Marketing

Given the presence of smart phones and tablets everywhere and marketers’ ability to personalize messages based on demographics and other consumer behavior characteristics, the appeal of mobile marketing as a communica­tion tool is obvious.


Wharton’s David Bell notes four distinctive characteristics of a mobile device: (1) It is uniquely tied to one user; (2) it is virtually always “on” given it is typically carried everywhere; (3) it allows for immediate consumption because it is in effect a channel of distribution with a payment system; and (4) it is highly interactive given it allows for geotracking and picture and video taking.73

Six of every 10 U.S. consumers owned a smart phone in 2014, creating a major opportunity for advertisers to reach consumers on the “third screen” (TV and the computer are the first and second).74 Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. consumers spend a considerable amount of time on mobile—more than on radio, magazines, and newspapers combined (an average of two hours and 51 minutes versus one hour and 46 minutes).75

Mobile ad spending was almost $18 billion worldwide in 2013. With the increased capabilities of smart phones, however, mobile ads can be more than just a display medium using static “mini-billboards.” Much recent interest has been generated in mobile apps—bite-sized software programs that can be downloaded to smart phones. Apps can perform useful functions—adding convenience, social value, incentives, and entertainment and making consumers’ lives a little or a lot better.76

In a short period of time, thousands of apps have been introduced by companies large and small. Many companies are adding apps to their marketing toolkit. VW chose to launch its GTI in the United States with an iPhone app, which was downloaded 2 million times in three weeks. In Europe, it launched the VW Tiguan with a mobile app as well as text messages and an interstitial Web site.77 A mobile app became an important part of a Bank of America campaign for one of its Merrill Lynch products.78


firms is to motivate younger customers to think about their financial needs, especially in terms of retirement. A recent academic study found that aged-progressed renderings of themselves helped younger people better imagine their future selves and adopt a longer-term financial planning perspective. Based in part on this research, Bank of America developed the “Face Retirement” program for its Merrill Edge low-cost financial planning platform. Initially using the brand’s Web site and later an app, the Face Retirement tool allowed users to snap pictures of themselves and, with the use of 3D “virtual makeover” imaging technology, see what they might look like when they were 47, 57, or even 107! Accompanying the photos was information about the expected prices of different items in those future years (bread, a gallon of gas, utilities) to provide additional context and motivation. Also present was a link to more information about investing for retirement. Almost 1 million individuals used the app, with 60 percent seeking more information. Many found the photos so intriguing they posted them on Facebook or shared them on Twitter.

To motivate younger consumers to consider investing in retirement, Merrill Edge’s “Face Retirement” program created a virtual makeover of consumers to show how they might look at progressively older ages.

Smart phones are also conducive to boosting loyalty programs in which customers can track their visits to and purchases from a merchant and receive rewards. By tracking the whereabouts of receptive customers who opt in to receive communications, retailers can send them location-specific promotions when they are near shops or outlets.79 Sonic Corp. used GPS data and proximity to cell towers in Atlanta to identify when those customers who had signed up for company communications were near one of roughly 50 Sonic restaurants in the area. When that was the case, the company sent customers a text message with a discount offer or an ad to entice them to visit the restaurant.80

Because traditional coupon redemption rates have been declining for years, the ability of mobile to make more relevant and timely offers to consumers at or near the point of purchase has piqued the interest of many marketers. These new coupons can take all forms, and digital in-store signs can dispense them to smart phones.81

Although the cookies that allow firms to track online activity don’t typically work in wireless applications, technological advances are making it easier to track users across their smart phones and tablets too. With user privacy safeguards in place, marketers’ greater knowledge of cross-screen identities (online and mobile) can permit more relevant, targeted ads.82

New measurement techniques are also aiding the adoption of mobile marketing. Nielsen has added consumers’ viewing of television programing on mobile devices to its Live+3 TV ratings system, which combines average live commercial ratings with three days of time-shifted viewing.83


Even with newer-generation smart phones, the Web experience can be very different for users given smaller screen sizes, longer download times, and the lack of some software capabilities. Marketers are wise to design simple, clear, and clean sites, paying even greater attention than usual to user experience and navigation.84 Experts point out that being concise is critical with mobile messaging, offering the following advice:85

  • Mobile ad copy should occupy only 50 percent of the screen, avoiding complex viewing experiences that may take a toll on consumers’ battery and data availability as well as on their time.
  • Brands should limit their ads to a pair of phrases—the offer and the tagline.
  • Brands should place their logo in the corner of the mobile ad frame.
  • Ads should use at least one bright color, but no more than two. Calls to action should be highlighted with a bright color.


Although a growing population segment uses smart phones and tablets for everything from entertainment to banking, different people have different attitudes toward and experiences with mobile technology. U.S. marketers can learn much about mobile marketing by looking overseas.

In developed Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, mobile marketing is fast becoming a central component of customer experiences.86 In developing markets, high smart-phone penetration also makes mobile marketing attractive. A pioneer in China, Coca-Cola created a national campaign asking Beijing residents to send text messages guessing the high temperature in the city every day for just over a month for a chance to win a one-year supply of Coke products. The campaign attracted more than 4 million messages over the course of 35 days.87

As marketers learn more about effective mobile campaigns from all over the world, they are figuring out how to adapt these programs to work in their markets. There is no question that successful marketing in the coming years will involve a healthy dose of mobile marketing.

Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.

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