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Marketing for the Third Screen

For marketers who want to transform cellphones into personalized multimedia advertising machines, there is some recommended viewing at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam this year: an entry called "Cell Stories," sponsored by Motorola, that was shot entirely with the video camera in a new Motorola cellphone.

Marketers, agencies and technology companies are already working on ways to use the latest cellphone technology to go the other way, and beam their messages to consumers on their cellphone screens, sometimes called the "third screen," after television and computer screens.

And manufacturers like Nokia and Samsung Electronics make mobile phones that can display streaming video from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and other sources, while a company called Idetic is offering subscriptions to MobiTV, which delivers live television to cellphones from channels including Fox Sports, MSNBC and TLC. AvantGo, a unit of Sybase that serves content and ads to personal digital assistants and smart phones, plans to begin delivering video ads soon to subscribers who want them.

But because video-enabled cellphones are still uncommon in the United States, many marketers are exploring the use of the third screen with more basic offerings.

The Chrysler Group division of DaimlerChrysler is one of the pioneers in sponsoring games that can be played online and is "trying to be an innovator" in the realm of games on phones, said Jeffrey A. Bell, vice president for the Chrysler and Jeep brands in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Branded games are appealing to marketers because those playing the games are not passive consumers; they have actually chosen to participate. " 'Invitation marketing' is the term we're using," he said, adding that the consumer would be in control and that the marketer would be on the screen only when invited. "It's up to you," Mr. Bell said.

Other companies are having conversations with consumers through wireless text messages, said Jack Philbin, president at Vibes Media in Evanston, Ill. When a consumer contacts a marketer using a text-message code found on a coupon or package, for example, the marketer can send responses preprogrammed by Vibes, he said. If the consumer responds to the marketer, the dialogue continues. The format can be used for things like trivia contests and delivering electronic coupons.

"Our philosophy is to get people to initiate a conversation with a brand and continue it as long as they want," Mr. Philbin said. "That instant interaction is really dictated by the individual consumer; you have this mass marketing ability but it is an individual experience."

The market is large; there are 171.2 million wireless subscribers in the United States, according to an industry trade group, CTIA-The Wireless Association.

Third Screen Media in Waltham, Mass., sells ads to clients like Dunkin' Donuts and Kodak that appear on mobile phones next to content from partners like USA Today, AccuWeather, Nascar and eBay.

As video capabilities evolve and spread, marketers hope the content and the ads will become more compelling. Next year "is going to be the year for video," said Thomas Burgess, chief executive of Third Screen.

Motorola decided to promote its new V710 camera phone by putting it in the hands of Double Wide Media in New York and Edward Lachman, the cinematographer for movies including "The Virgin Suicides" and "Erin Brockovich."

Mr. Lachman said Motorola did not tell him what to film. "They were interested in how I used the medium to tell stories," he said. The resulting short films are also online at www.hellomoto.com/mobilegallery.

With video and the proper approach, cellphone marketing will become even more personalized than the Internet, said Lou Schultz, chairman of Boomerang Mobile Media in Sarasota, Fla. "We can take the phone and connect it to the Internet," he said. "Then you'll be able to provide branded content over the phone on a video basis to customers that want it."

"You can custom-make television shows down to the individual," Mr. Schultz added. Programming of any kind - like technology reviews or travel guides - could last five minutes or an hour. "A marketer can give full video exposition of his or her products," he said. "That's the land we're headed into."


Nat Ives, The New York Times. November 8, 2004

Copyright © 2004 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.