Letter From London: How Mobile Is Finding Its Mojo in the UK

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Thanks to larger screens and new technologies, the time has come for mobile marketing to get creative in the UK.

The obstacle to better mobile advertising (and more of it) isn't an absence of ideas or capabilities. The mobile marketing ecosystem just needs to command greater attention within brand owners' budgets.

"The UK sales teams generally work very hard for their budget," says Mark Halliday, head of mobile at Manning Gottlieb. "It's still quite early days in mobile versus alternative media channels, and it seems the whole industry is trying to do whatever it takes to encourage spend from an eclectic range of advertisers. Sales teams are making mock-ups and working examples, helping advertisers with the creative build and even offering research — all for much lower budgets than you might expect elsewhere in the world. The barriers to testing mobile are now very low."

Alex Newman, head of mobile at OMD, is confident that this will drive widespread growth in the channel: "The UK has always been at — or near — the forefront of new technology. We're one of the biggest e-commerce markets, and we're one of the largest online spenders. I think it's a natural progression that mobile will take off quickly here, especially compared with other European markets."

Ads That Really Work

Halliday is keen to praise the new generation of "engaging and enchanting" mobile advertising. "I'm incredibly excited about the proliferation of mobile-rich media formats," he says. "It's no longer a rarity to see and experience an ad that you would actually want to spend time with. Mobiles and tablets are acting as gateways to additional content and doing it in increasingly creative ways."

Case in point: The 2012 Cannes Lions Advertising Festival saw the launch of a dedicated mobile category. While mobile categories have existed as specialist and media-oriented awards for some time, this launch was significant because Cannes' acceptance signals that the channel has joined the big leagues.

This represents exciting times for agency professionals such as Newman: "Historically, mobile advertising has suffered from very limited screen size. Plus, the technology hasn't been particularly advanced, so the creative opportunities have been quite limited. But the work on display at Cannes was full of completely left-field examples that were working really well," he said. "It's no longer just a direct-response–focused platform; we can actually start to tell brand stories on mobile."

There's a real appetite for this among mobile marketers too: "I'd really like to do something that works across all different screens," confesses Newman when asked about his ultimate mobile wish list. "I'd really like to work on a campaign that operates across a number of different devices — one that puts mobile at the center but where multiple screens are used to create an intertwined experience across all screens. I don't think we've quite got to that level yet."

What the Future Holds

Before marketers get carried away with a new screen to play on, Newman has this prediction for the medium: "I don't know if phones will exist in the future in the way they do now. I can see a phoneless future, where your phone is just sensors that you wear on your watch or something."

For Halliday, the idea of mobile media is also temporary: "I think the lines between what is ‘mobile' and what is ‘digital' will become increasingly blurred — especially with the huge growth in tablets. Everything will simply be seen as digital, on whichever device is most convenient, be that your phone, PC, tablet, games console or your smart TV."

At the first Cannes Mobile Lions, it was evident that mobile is the enabling technology in a lot of the innovation going on around the world. Apps like blippar, Aurasma and Shazam — that allow users to interact with other media — are slowly changing this. But as mobile creativity comes of age, the industry comes one step closer to capitalizing on the fact that millions of people around the world are carrying powerful miniature computers in their pockets.

Paps Shaikh is SAY's commercial director in the UK. This article also ran in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of SAY Magazine.

[Illustration by Nigel Sussman]