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Are Wireless Ad Standards Really Necessary?

New wireless ad guidelines are being developed, the adherence to which is deemed strictly voluntary. But there is dissension in the ranks regarding the need for such guidelines.

Robert O'Hare doesn't want to see advertisers and content providers make the same mistake twice.

When the wired Internet roared to life, "they were really slow to develop some of these standards [regarding issues such as ad format and privacy] and I think it hurt them in the end. It slowed acceptance by the public. People didn't really understand what they could put out there and how it would be measured. There should have been more up-front exploration of that," he said.

As chairman of the Wireless Advertising Association, O'Hare is working to ensure that advertising in the wireless media does not fall into the same trap. In recent months the association has formulated various draft standards that O'Hare says could help speed consumer willingness to accept ads on their cell phones and PDAs.

"It's a new medium and we need to introduce this new medium with some guidelines and standards that can be accepted not only domestically but worldwide, in order both to protect the end-user from getting ads that otherwise might be much more intrusive and less relevant; and also to protect the advertisers from sending out ads that would not be very effective," said O'Hare, who serves as director of mobile commerce at Motorola.

The advertising association's draft standards spell out details such as how many characters an SMS sponsorship message ought to contain, and how many pixels are appropriate for a WAP ad.

Players in the wireless-advertising space have welcomed the voluntary guidelines.

"You are going to be seeing ads on different devices, through different carriers, and different content providers," said Daren Tsui, president of SkyGo, a firm providing technology solutions to wireless advertisers, content providers and others. "In a situation like that, standards are very important because you don't want to be creating 10 different ads that fit on 10 different devices with 10 different carriers."

"You also don't want to create an ad that takes up the whole entire screen so that users have to scroll quite a ways before they get to the content that they care about," he said. "We don't want to alienate consumers."

Others, however, say the inherent limitations of the wireless media make the need for standards far less pressing than in the desktop environment.

"There is only so much you can do," said Jay Renner, president of Streetbeam, a firm that enables outdoor advertising. With Streetbeam's technology, a consumer can point a PDA at an outdoor sign and download further information regarding that ad.

"I am most familiar with beamed applications to a Palm [device]. In that case, it has to look like a Palm OS file, it has to fit within the Palm operating system, and within that system ... [ads] all basically look the same," he said. "With SMS, too, you are limited by what you can do in an SMS message. There are 180-some-odd characters of text and there is not that much you can do with it."

That being the case, "I don't think standards are a very big issue," he said.

O'Hare meanwhile contends that the available range of wireless devices undermines the argument.

"If you just say -- 'What fits?' -- and you leave it open, then the question becomes: What fits what? A three-line phone is far different from a seven-line phone and the number of characters across, horizontally, is different as well," he said. "If you don't set a range within each type of phone, you are going to end up looking at odd formats and other things that won't be very effective at all."


Adam Stone, Internet.com. July 24, 2001

Copyright © 2001 INT Media Group. All rights reserved.