Legal issues, ROI hinder adoption of rich media mobile promos: ePrize exec

It would like to have more skin in the mobile promotions game, but the nation's leading interactive promotions firm is concerned about legal and security issues. Still, as this Q&A with chief operating officer Gerry Miller shows, ePrize LLC is fully aware of the potential of mobile promotions.

The Pleasant Ridge, MI-based company has run Internet promotions for such marketers as Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., ConAgra, Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills, Nestle, Chase, Papa John's, AnnTaylor, Kmart, Harrah's, AT&T Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Orbitz.

In the mobile space ePrize has handled SMS-based promotions for General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac and burger chain Wendy's. But its approach to mobile promotions is layered with caution, "especially in the current economic climate, if ROI is not guaranteed, or there is a chance that the campaign could be legally challenged, marketers are rightfully hesitant to test," Mr. Miller told Mobile Marketer's Mickey Alam Khan. The interview:

How does ePrize view mobile?
It is clear that mobile is an area of opportunity for all marketers. We currently segment this area into two facets -- U.S. and the rest of the world. We are looking closely at Asia where most access to the Internet is done through handheld devices. The technology needs to hit a critical mass in the U.S. to make it more valuable to national advertisers.

Is it an immediate opportunity or one that needs time to develop?
Mobile marketing is the Wild West right now. With promotions, there are many legal considerations, laws that currently exist and laws that should exist to prevent this type of marketing from being invasive.

Like with CAN-SPAM, the laws will take time to catch up with technology. Until then, engaging consumers in promotions through handheld devices requires deep understanding of not only the technological requirements as well as the legal distinctions of this advertising medium. We have proven ourselves successful in both and will continue to evolve our service offerings in this area.

Is this market ready for mobile promotions on the scale of online promotions?
The answer is dependent on individual markets. The U.S. market is not ready but the Asian and many individual markets in Europe are ready. Moving forward, we will target handsets as more of a rich-media climate than ever before.

What kinds of mobile promotions has ePrize done for clients so far and for whom? What kind of results did you see?
We've conducted mobile SMS-based campaigns for Pontiac and Wendy's, for example. The results are strong and will continue to improve as the technology catches up to the opportunities.

Internet connectivity on mobile phones must make the environment for mobile promotions more hospitable, right?
Promotions started going mobile with SMS a few years ago. Now, mobile promotions are possible with WAP -- wireless application protocol -- which utilizes Internet connectivity.

The next phase of mobile promotions will also include Internet connectivity and will add rich media experiences. The promotions we see on our desktop today will be viewable and playable on our handhelds in the future.

As many of these rich media experiences are Flash-based, phones and other handheld devices will need to start building in the technology to make these viewable.

For example, NTT DoCoMo in Japan has a huge ecosystem of Flash. Some U.S. cell phone manufacturers are starting to integrate this technology but it has not yet met the critical adoption numbers needed to make sense for mass marketers.

What questions are ePrize's clients asking about mobile?
While more than half ePrize clients express interest in mobile advertising, less than 10 percent actually invest in it because it is not yet proven. Especially in the current economic climate, if ROI is not guaranteed, or there is a chance that the campaign could be legally challenged, marketers are rightfully hesitant to test.

So when do you think these clients will be ready to take the plunge or extend online promotions to the mobile space?
Mobile promotions are here in the form of SMS and WAP today. We expect them to continue gaining prominence as marketers become more comfortable with mobile outreach. Rich media promotions will go mobile once there is wide technology adoption. We see this happening within the next two years.

Clients in which categories do you think are likely to adopt mobile promotions?
In the short-term, we see the end-user beverage and consumer packaged goods markets readily adopting mobile strategies. Longer term, automotive marketers will begin to test new strategies as traditional advertising is proving less and less effective.

In 2005 we partnered with another agency to conduct the Pontiac "Catch a G6" that was SMS-based. Consumers were asked to send in mobile phone pictures of G6s. It was highly successful. Technology is capable of so much more interactivity now that possibilities for campaigns like this are endless.

How prepared is ePrize to offer mobile promotions?
EPrize is running SMS and WAP promotions today. EPrize recently launched a software-as-a-service platform called ToyBox 2.0 which allows marketers to deploy online promotions that are not only secure but also proven to deliver results.

The technologies built into this platform are applicable to both mobile and traditional online promotions. All our non-Flash ToyBox 2.0 promotions are accessible via mobile Web browsers and automatically reconfigure themselves to the appropriate device. Moving forward we will continue investing in making these capabilities richer.

If we launched mobile rich media offerings today, there is such a small segment of U.S. consumers able to utilize it that it would not be worth the investment. The reality of the ROI possible with mobile changes monthly and when the market is ready, we'll start implementing.

Can you use any existing ePrize technology and leverage that across mobile?
Yes, most sweepstakes and instant-win platforms can be used by mobile. All our non-Flash promotions are mobile-ready. We also have mobile-only features such as the ability to enter a promotion via SMS. Moving forward we are investigating solutions for richer mobile experiences, like advergames.

Are there any other agencies out there that offer mobile promotions?
EPrize will be the first to offer mobile promotion technology.

So what advantages does ePrize bring to the mobile table from the interactive world?
EPrize is a full-service promotions company. We offer legal, technology, creative, security, strategy, fulfillment [and] customer support, as well as proven results. We have launched more than 4,000 interactive promotions. No other company has our depth of experience.

What's the biggest hurdle in implementing mobile promotions?
Legal, security, speed, and targeting are the biggest hurdles in implementing mobile promotions. It is up to the promotions company to provide the legal and security [support] but the speed is based on evolving technology of handhelds on the market.

With targeting, the process for entering data -- phone number, name, address, etc. -- is cumbersome for promotion players. We'll typically ask a consumer to provide their email address either via SMS or a mobile HTML form, then email them a link to a richer registration or data capture page. The mobile device, therefore, tends today to be an extension of a traditional Web-based promotion, as opposed to a standalone promotion.

Does mobile offer any advantage over Internet marketing?
We see mobile as an extension of Internet marketing, offering a rich variety of additional features that can be incorporated into traditional Web promotions.