Cellphones: taking a powerful measure of ads

Cellphones: taking a powerful measure of ads

It was in the late 1930s that Claude Hopkins had propounded the theory of Scientific Advertising. His book, with the same name, proclaimed that in the hands of the right practitioner, advertising is no longer a gamble, but can be a scientific practice. The book had its followers, including David Ogilvy, who said that no one should enter (the world of) advertising if they had not read Hopkins’ book three times. Interestingly, Hopkins also invented several devices to predict the response rates of ads, such as coupons.

After ruling the roost for at least 30 years, in the 1970s the “scientific" part of advertising was burnt at the altar of creativity. Experts opined that advertising is a gentle art of persuasion, and is as far removed from science as a Jackson Pollack painting. Interestingly, Scientific American had an article that analysed Pollack’s paintings and concluded that the random droppings of paint were in fact perfect “fractal" diagrams—so much for the separation of art and science.

The circle is now complete. Experts are once again speaking of the need to measure the effectiveness of advertising and marketing. The growth of the Internet as a medium has driven this new mantra of measurement. As the 8 July 2006 issue of The Economist proclaimed, advertising has become less wasteful and more measurable, thanks to the power of the Internet.

The Internet, including search, accounted for at least 6% of total advertising spending in the US and the number will possibly grow even more rapidly this year. As marketers look for more measurable advertising, they will tend to gravitate more and more towards the Internet. In India, the Internet is still a small portion of our advertising pie, possibly less than 2%. Internet advertising is not galloping as one would expect. But the Black Swan in India could well be the cellphone. Marketers are using cellphones in many interesting, different ways.

We are all aware of how the entertainment industry has created a new revenue stream out of short message service or SMS-based voting in talent shows.

Marketers are also discovering that SMS can be an easy device to get leads, and in that sense, the SMS short code has become the modern-day “coupon"; this time the coupon can even be attached to a television commercial. For example, every advertisement for a Tata Motors Ltd car carries an SMS response message—this way, prospective customers are given a quick and easy way of registering their interest. Technically, even the time and place of response could be tracked. When we marry a mobile phone response mechanism to a mass media campaign, we suddenly start getting real metrics from a commercial, just as Hopkins got with his coupon.

Purists will argue that the person who sends the SMS may not be the right target—it may be a more younger audience, for example—just as the person who writes a letter to the editor is in no way representative of the average newspaper reader—who is possibly younger than the habitual letter to the editor writer. However, it is a beginning.

In future, we will see the emergence of the mobile phone as a powerful, measurable advertising medium. There are many bridges to be crossed, such as the need to seek permission, the English language barrier, limited multimedia messaging service, or MMS, capability, etc.

However, there is no doubt that if marketing has to embrace the measurement mantra, it has to seek the help of devices such as the mobile phone in this country of just 30 million Internet surfers and at least 250 million mobile phone users.

The author is executive director and CEO, DraftFCB+Ulka Advertising.

As told to Anushree Chandran