by Michael O'Neill
January 4th, 2013

Back when I worked as a journalist on a marketing trade publication, we had two yearly in-jokes. The first was to count the number of times presenters at the annual satellite TV conference would say “Content is king”. The second was to roll our eyes at the number of opinion pieces that would land on our desks each January from mobile marketers arguing that this particular year was the year of mobile.

Well, now the joke is on me because not only am I going to say that 2013 will be the year of mobile, I am also going to say that content will be king.

Let me qualify that statement a little though. I still feel that the advertising industry is going to struggle to find a distinct voice on mobile, for reasons noted below. However, for PR agencies with a commitment to quality content creation, this year could — and should — be the year they forge a stronger positioning in the mobile space.

The appeal of mobile to marketers of all stripes is understandable. Here we have a communications tool that in many ways is the perfect media channel — one that can combine print, outdoor, TV, radio and online into an always-on, palm-sized device that consumers carry with them at all times.

That said, it is exactly because a mobile phone is so personal that it has proven itself to be so resistant to advertising.

Traditional advertising models to a large extent depend on disruption to achieve cut through — a TV commercial that stops viewers switching over during the ad break, or a newspaper ad that makes readers pause before turning the page. Although mobile can fit comfortably onto a rough timeline of mass communications alongside print, radio, TV and online, it also has a distinct point of separation. Unlike other communications channels, mobile has become so personal, so much of an extension of the users themselves, that a similar disruption, particularly from an industry that has for so long prided itself on a “We sell. Or else” philosophy, is frowned upon, and even resented.

Mobile users want entertainment and functionality from their phones. They want immediacy and connectivity. What they don’t want is to be subjected to a hard sell.

This is not to say that mobile marketing is dead in the water. Far from it. Many brands have had huge success with in-game advertising or sponsored apps. Likewise, coupon distributors still enjoy popularity in the mobile space. Others have been able to migrate platforms over from online — such as mobile websites or mobile video. According to a report released at the end of last year, mobile ad spend in Asia was forecast to hit a record US$2.56 billion in 2012. This makes Asia Pacific the global leader in terms of mobile spend, although that amount is still a fraction of the US$162 billion forecast total 2012 ad spend for the region.

Clearly mobile marketing does have huge potential. It just needs to be smarter. And PR is in a strong starting position to capitalise on this opportunity.

PR has never been explicitly about the hard sell. Instead it has been about building lasting relationships between brands and consumers — whether in terms of crisis management, events, reputation building, CRM or media relations. More recently, it has also been about social behaviour — engaging with consumers on their terms around conversations they want to have. All attributes that fit well with the mobile user experience.

To amplify this point, here are two examples of clever mobile marketing, neither of which, as far as I am aware, originated out of PR.

The first is a classic case study of mobile marketing. The Kraft-branded iFood Assistant. At no cost, users can access more than 7,000 tested recipes, how-to videos and a shopping list builder, all conveniently integrated with Kraft brands. While there is no hard sell involved, the clear implication is that using Kraft products should be part of creating the perfect meal.

The second example, also from the US, addresses a more targeted audience. Diet company Weight Watchers recently launched an app that helps users track healthy lifestyle routines and sends automatic messages of encouragement for those who achieve their daily goals.

There is nothing groundbreaking in either of these examples — in both cases the brands are simply delivering the right kind of content to the right kind of consumers at the right time. And unlike many apps, there is a lasting benefit for the user so they can expect high frequency useage and a long shelf life.

Crucially, though, they are adding to the mobile experience, not interrupting (or even disrupting) it. They are creating brand engagement by knowing who their audience is, understanding what they desire and presenting it to them in an intuitive and convenient package. Sound anything like PR?

With over 1.4 million apps in existence on iTunes and Google Pay, another app that does not have a defined purpose and audience is going to disappear into the wind. But if the ideal mobile marketing experience is about making a brand part of a consumer’s daily interactions, then PR should not just be experimenting in the mobile space, it should be leading the way. And that means creating interesting content and well-designed infrastructure, neither of which should beyond the reach of a strong PR agency in 2013.

Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

(Disclosure: Kraft Foods is a Weber Shandwick client)

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