Snuggling up to consumers

19 Oct 2008

Bluetooth technology may be the new golden goose for mobile marketing, but early adopters must handle it gingerly.

If one-to-one contact with consumers is marketing’s holy grail, could Bluetooth be the means to light the way? A growing number of mobile phones and devices are now equipped with wireless technology for sending and receiving files. Say goodbye to handing out paper flyers; Bluetooth gives proximity marketing a direct line to young, technologically savvy consumers.

Eamon Hession (MMII), CEO of mobile marketing company Púca, explains the attractions of Bluetooth. “It doesn’t use the normal mobile networks, so there are none of the data charges associated with downloading content. Consumers can access Bluetooth content completely free. Also, the process of getting the content is pretty straightforward and quick; you are asked if you want to download an item and it then happens automatically if you reply ‘yes’, whereas using the mobile internet is, I think, a bit less straightforward and simple.”

In a marketing context, the technology’s short range (around 10m) means brands can deliver location-specific content. A download at a particular site might be a voucher at a convenience store, a music video at a concert, movie trailers at a cinema, match footage at a sports stadium or tourist information at a bus stop. Early findings suggest it’s best paired with a traditional ad format such as a billboard or poster with a call to action

The medium also provides valuable customer data. Although marketers can’t harvest demographic information about participants, they know who has seen an ad and acted on it. In a store, they would know how many downloads subsequently turned into product enquiries or sales.

Unlike text messages, Bluetooth can handle very large files. “It’s a chance to do something in a range of media – text, graphics, video, sound – and it’s quite cheap and cost-effective,” says Ronan O’Kelly, managing director of content delivery firm iMobile. “You can put more money into creative and production because the delivery costs less.”

Bluemedia, a proximity marketing provider, is currently running trials at more than 20 Spar stores around Dublin. A call-to-action banner in the shop reminds customers to enable Bluetooth on their phones. In return, they can receive a real-time news and information service with money-off vouchers from three participating brands: Cadbury, Mars and Red Bull Cola. In one store alone, the redemption rate has been 29pc.

“For an average advertising medium, 1-2pc redemption rate is considered a success,” says Bluemedia director Dean McKillen. “I see it as a good way for brands to promote their new products. Even if an advertiser doesn’t want to give something away, they can still have their branding around the news service, so it’s linked in with other information that’s worthwhile.”

The ad of choice
Whereas today’s consumer is often portrayed as jaded and willing to avoid ads given any opportunity, marketers are encouraged by high levels of acceptance for Bluetooth. In a Universal McCann survey, it was the most popular mobile ad format among recipients, with 71pc in favour, compared to 61pc who rejected banner or TV ads on their handsets.

Not everyone is so enamoured with the technology; a recent article about proximity marketing in The Irish Times was heavily critical of how intrusive Bluetooth can be. In fairness, many service providers are aware of the risks. “If you receive 10 messages by Bluetooth on a main thoroughfare in Dublin, by the end of that street you’ve turned it off for good. That’s fewer customers, which is no good for anyone,” says O’Kelly.

An example of good practice is O2’s sponsorship of the Oxegen information service, he adds, where positive word of mouth drove higher acceptance of the download.

“A lot of people who rejected the message the first time came back. Scepticism was eradicated by the quality of production.”

Others have had a similar experience. When Bluemedia introduced a proximity marketing service at Dublin’s Jervis Shopping Centre, take-up among consumers dropped from 55pc to 42pc in two months post-launch. The campaign was reworked to offer more valuable content in place of adverts and vouchers, pushing acceptance rates back up. The revamped software application includes a live news service, mobile games, cinema times, wallpapers and ringtones – in other words, something for everyone.

“Who would read a newspaper that was just full of advertisements with no content? There has to be some value,” says McKillen. “The ad-only model doesn’t work. People might have got the message but wouldn’t be inclined to accept it again, whereas with updated news you’re more inclined to download it repeatedly.”

Hession warns brands against dealing with mobile marketers who design Bluetooth campaigns with little consideration for best practice. “Imagine being asked through Bluetooth as you’re passing a bus stop if you want to download an item from a particular brand, responding ‘yes’, and then after a couple of minutes all you get is a poor rendition of a completely boring ad that was made originally for TV and has been poorly rendered for mobile so you can’t even read the text on it? This is the kind of rubbish people are having to put up with. It’s not sustainable and consumers will react against it.”

It seems the by-now well-worn adage ‘content is king’ applies as much to the mobile phone as it does to the internet. For all the branding benefits Bluetooth presents, marketers need to tread carefully so as not to put this golden goose out to pasture prematurely.

Brands get Bluetooth

It’s surely no coincidence that communications companies are among Bluetooth marketing’s early adopters. O2 and UPC have run recent campaigns using the technology, and both plan to do so again.

In what’s claimed to be the biggest Bluetooth marketing initiative in Ireland so far, attendees at July’s Oxegen music festival could download a mobile service featuring real-time information such as interactive maps, campsite details, stage times, competitions and footage from bands at the event. O2 sponsored the service, which was downloaded by more than 16,000 out of 49,000 festival-goers with Bluetooth-enabled phones.

Jonnie Cahill, head of communications and sponsorship at O2 Ireland, says the company deliberately chose to be involved with a valuable service rather than one simply beaming out irrelevant messages. “We weren’t just doing this for the sake of it. What you do has to be anchored in what consumers need, not what you need,” he insists. “As with any emerging technology, the question isn’t ‘What’s possible?’, it’s ‘Is what’s possible good?'”

Cahill says Bluetooth fits in with a wider branding effort at Oxegen, including everything from a sponsored stage to free phone chargers. Other projects are also up for consideration. More concrete plans are already under way to enhance the service for next year’s Oxegen festival, Cahill confirms.

“Will the Bluetooth services immediately trigger a stampede of people to the brand? Probably not. But in the context of our wider involvement in music we’re showing people this is a brand they should be joining. That’s how we believe it will attract people to the network. It’s one part of the jigsaw.”

Mobile isn’t a new channel for cable TV and broadband provider UPC Ireland to use to communicate with customers. It already sends text reminders for services like installations or repairs. UPC’s Bluetooth campaign ran at 10 sites across Dublin, including at bus shelters. The response rate was downloads to 11,500 out of 65,000 mobiles detected.

“Compared to other media, that’s a fantastic response,” says Rhona Bradshaw (MMII), head of marketing with UPC Ireland. “With Bluetooth you can see the results; with traditional outdoor advertising that’s very hard to do.”

Bradshaw sees Bluetooth as a complement to existing marketing efforts, giving UPC reach into other consumer types. “It meant our TV ad got a lot more attention than it would have and I think we hit customers or potential customers who we wouldn’t necessarily attract through our regular advertising channels. We’ll definitely use it again for our rebranding campaign in the new year.”

Future efforts are likely to involve more high-end content delivered to people’s phones, but Bradshaw rejects the idea that consumers may be turned off by intrusive ads. “Customers have always had power, even with traditional formats. It’s up to them to decide whether to interact with it, whether it’s a TV ad or direct marketing. People always drive what marketers do and how we speak to them.”

Pictured: Luke Kelly and Dean McKillen from Bluemedia.

This article first appeared in Marketing Age magazine.

By Gordon Smith

This article appears courtesy of

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic