This year has seen the birth of a new generation in mobile
communications - the WAP-enabled mobile phone. With it has come the
promise of new information and entertainment services accessible by
users any time, anywhere and a plethora of new ways for advertisers to
reach consumers when they are away from home.
WAP, or wireless application protocol, is generating huge
The main reason for this is that it will bring web access to potentially
a far bigger audience than could ever be achieved by PC or interactive
This has obvious implications in developed communications markets such
as Europe. But there are even greater implications for mass-market
internet use in fast-growing territories elsewhere, such as Asia, and
even parts of Africa and India where the telephony infrastructure being
put in place is neither copper wire or fibre optic cable-based, but
wireless - based around the mobile phone.
For the time being, however, Europe is being watched worldwide as the
testbed for new mobile communications technology. This is because,
unlike the US, European countries share a common WAP technical
As a result, over the past six months leading manufacturers including
Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola have launched WAP devices here and European
phone networks have started rolling out WAP services. Orange was the
first to do so in the UK - its WAP service includes news from ITN, sport
from the PA, entertainment listings from Associated New Media and TV
listings from Flextech.
Growth estimates vary but, according to Nokia, the number of Europeans
owning a WAP-enabled device will equal the number owning laptops by the
year’s end. By 2003, others suggest, European WAP mobile phone ownership
will hit half a billion - by which time the value of European mobile
commerce could be pounds 14.25 billion.
’We believe the potential of personal mobile media is significant - both
in terms of content and advertising,’ Anssi Vanjoki, the senior
vice-president, mobile phones, at Nokia, says.
’The size of screen may currently limit the content, but new products -
not just mobile phones but also other personal devices - will provide
more space and higher resolution for a variety of text- and
Advertising will have a critical role to play - both in financing these
new services and driving the development of ’m-commerce’, Vanjoki
predicts. And the key driver of this new, mobile market will be
consumers’ ability to access information and entertainment while on the
Small wonder, then, that online and digital advertising specialists are
queuing up to test the water - even though the number of WAP-enabled
mobile phones in the UK remains small and screen size and low screen
resolution limit the range of advertising executions that can be
’At the moment, it’s hard to say there’s anything but limited potential
for advertising using WAP,’ Rick Sareen, a founding partner of the
London-based online advertising agency Media 21, says.
’But this will change rapidly with increased data transmission speed,
the bigger screens with higher resolution promised by the
next-generation devices and the ability to deliver full-motion video and
audio, which is expected by mid-2001.’
A key factor will be the ease with which users will be able to manage
the data they receive. And the form in which this data will be
delivered, of course.
For the time being, no-one can predict exactly what sort of advertising
formats will dominate on this platform - in theory, a mobile
communications device with a high enough screen resolution could carry a
conventional TV commercial. However, most believe the future lies in a
mix of promotion and sponsorship instead.
’The technology will drive the rapid growth of location-, time- and
person-based marketing,’ Vanjoki believes. Consumers will be able to
decide if, when and how they want to receive messages.
’It will mean the growth of permission marketing, but get the consumer’s
permission and this will provide deeper one-to-one marketing than many
The first advertiser to use WAP in the UK was the internet-based sports
service provider football365.com. The campaign, which broke in March,
was developed by Media 21 and the digital media agency 24/7, and was the
first campaign to drive traffic between WAP-content sites and across
different WAP networks. Football356.com’s ’WAPvertising’ comprised a
90-character text message across three lines on the screen of WAP
phones, which sat above the main sports menu on the Orange Nokia WAP
Users could click on the ad to be redirected to the football365 site by
24/7’s WAP ad server to get more information, such as the latest
Mark Nall, sales director at 24/7, has no doubt about the potential of
WAP. ’It’s absolutely huge,’ he says.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, the size of the
With half a billion digital mobiles already in use throughout Europe,
estimates of half a billion WAP phones by 2003 are realistic, given that
most mobile owners change their phones at least once every two years, he
The second reason is security - which will create trust in the ’WAP
environment’ that will drive the growth of mobile e-commerce. And the
third is technology - with improvements to the size and clarity of
mobile screens, and the ability to target content to users according to
This would enable a restaurant chain not only to promote itself to a
potential customer on the move but tailor a message to someone,
detailing their nearest branch, depending on where they are.
Targeting messages to people on the move means WAP will become a
powerful new local medium, Nall predicts. But, Sareen adds, WAP devices
will also be an important new platform for direct response.
’As well as being a mobile communications device, WAP-enabled devices
have the potential to work as a ’digital wallet’ as well,’ he points
out. Already Scandinavian trials have seen drinks vending machines
carrying code numbers that consumers dial into their phones to activate
the machine’s release of the drink. The price is added to the user’s
next mobile phone bill.
Inevitably, some types of product will benefit more than others -
notably, time-sensitive goods (such as last-minute offers) or products
or services consumers need to buy on the move (such as making a
restaurant or hotel booking).
Yet whether or not WAP becomes the most appropriate tool for every
advertiser, it is likely to help persuade them all of the need to make
themselves available to potential clients in all places, at all
’Goods and services will no longer be able to afford to be present only
through one distribution channel or outlet,’ Sareen says. ’They will
have to think how to communicate themselves through 360 degrees.’
This article was first published on Campaign