Advertisers take a bite out of Bluetooth

Bluetooth technology is bringing a new dimension of interactivity to advertising. Sean Hargrave offers an idiot’s guide to how, why and where it will make a difference.

Business class travellers are used to being offered peanuts and miniature-sized drinks as they wait for a flight, but now visitors to BA's lounge at Heathrow are being offered something far more revolutionary.

As Volvo adverts are looped on plasma screens, travellers with the Bluetooth facility on their mobile phones turned to "discoverable" have a message beamed to them asking if they would like to download a clip of each of the seven adverts – the series where television viewers see snippets of conversations in cars about becoming an astronaut or surfing above sharks, among others.

Those that have the new facility but do not have it turned on are prompted by signs to do so to allow the system to discover them. Travellers can then download clips from the adverts with a message telling them which channel to tune in to on the flight to see the full-length versions.

The project is an early mover in the advertising industry's attempt to get clients' branded messages on to consumers' mobile phones through the Bluetooth facility built in to nearly all mid and top-range handsets and PDAs shipped in recent years.

Ongoing relationship While the manufacturers envisaged the radio technology allowing users to hold hands-free conversations and back-up data without a tangle of wires, the advertising industry is coming to see the technology as a direct, opt-in route to get the branded messages conveyed on fixed, outdoor media into the mobile phone – where they can be carried around with a consumer. This, practitioners hope, will be the start of an ongoing relationship that will prompt the mobile phone owner to accept promotions and content from the brand concerned.

For Volvo, Tim Ellis, the firm's global advertising director, sums up his experience of broadcasting over Bluetooth – or BlueCasting – as the perfect way to "reach our target audience at different stages of their air travel experience and provide them with an opportunity to interact and engage more deeply with the Volvo brand".

So far, OneZeroOne and Filter – the outdoor digital advertising agency and mobile marketing companies that set up the Heathrow campaign – estimate that about one in three people with their phones switched to "discoverable" are responding by downloading clips while they wait for a flight.

Chris O'Donnell, head of OneZeroOne, was already a convert to the BlueCasting cause before setting up the Volvo campaign at Heathrow. Just as a mobile phone is a highly personalised item, he believes that if brands can persuade the public to interact with them on their mobiles, they can have a very direct, personalised dialogue.

"The fear people have had about Bluetooth is that it's intrusive and can be like that futuristic scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise gets blasted by offers from every poster and shop he passes," O'Donnell says.

"With BlueCasting, it's permission-based, so you're not annoying people but offering them compelling content and offers and, because the system's networked, it can store information about what you're interested in and make sure offers are more highly targeted and not repeated."

O'Donnell has been working, again with Filter (which coined the term BlueCasting), on internet kiosks in Bristol that are sponsored by Carling.

Aside from providing local information, the terminals ask users if they would like to opt-in to receive offers beamed direct to their phone.

If they do, Bluetooth is used to transmit a money-off voucher to the handset.

Similarly, the companies have been working with screen provider Maiden Outdoor to turn Victoria Station in to a BlueCasting area.

It is only a trial and so far has been used to promote pop bands through ringtones and wallpapers sent to opt-in phones.

It is very early days but Filter's creative partner, Alasdair Scott, claims Bluetooth will soon be used regularly by big brands looking to strike up a relationship with potential customers on the move.

"When you think about it, Bluetooth and outdoor are natural bed fellows," he argues.

"Posters and screens are great at conveying a message but they're fixed. Bluetooth allows them to make that message mobile and allows it to be carried around by consumers.

"It's also a huge technology leap forward, because some people have used infra-red to beam content to mobiles from posters – but you need direct line-of-sight and it can only work with one person at a time. With Bluetooth, you don't need to ask people to point the phone at the poster, you can broadcast the information and lots of people can download the information at the same time."

Indeed Hypertag, the company arguably most associated with infra-red transmitters in posters, has recently launched its first Bluetooth campaign for Warner Bros. The posters for New Order's latest album are placed in HMV shop windows, allowing people passing to download anMP3 track from the album.

Until the New Order project, Hypertag campaigns – such as the current posters for Moby's new album – have required users to enable infra-red on their phone and point it at an area on the poster. Bluetooth obviously widens the reach of a campaign but, according to Rachel Harker, sales and marketing director at Hypertag, this means extra care is needed to ensure it is not used indiscriminately.

"Bluetooth means more people can download the same content at the same time, so it's very interesting," she says.

"However, people are suspicious of opening up their mobile to brands because they're worried they'll be bombarded or their number will be sold on. So we don't store any numbers and so we're not trying to personalise campaigns to subscribers."

Hence, the advertising and marketing industries appear to be split over the new possibilities Bluetooth offers. While, for some, it is an unrivalled means to offer passers-by the opportunity to opt-in and interact with a brand, for other firms this extra reach could be viewed as intrusive – particularly if it is initiated by a poster they have not even seen.

It is this concern that has contributed to outdoor giant JCDecaux so far choosing not to use the technology, reveals head of marketing Liz Ross Martyn.

"We've used infra-red for an O2 competition to win a holiday, but that required people to go up to the poster and enter," she explains.

"We've never done anything with Bluetooth and we've not got anything on the roster. I think that's because we share the view of many brands that reaching consumers' mobiles has to be their choice and, if you send them a message to see if they want to opt-in to receive some content, it could be seen as not totally leaving it up to the consumer."

On the other side of the argument, agencies claim that Bluetooth is an advertiser's dream because it not only allows fixed outdoor points to communicate with a public on the move, but the technology is built around them opting in. It is a "pull" technology, albeit with perhaps an initial element of "push" to make them aware it exists.

Certainly Sophia Jamsheer, outdoor media manager at Starcom, believes Bluetooth is the future of outdoor and the main concern the advertising and marketing industries should have is how to educate the public to use it more.

"Bluetooth's the future because, rather than the traditional model where you find a poster, it comes to you now," she sums up.

"We've not used it yet but had some great success with infra-red for a money-off voucher campaign for Nintendo Pokémon – where 10% of those who downloaded the voucher went on to buy the promoted game.

"As long as Bluetooth is used as opt-in, I can foresee the only problem will be education. Under 21-year-olds know all about phone technology, but those a bit older often don't even know it's on their phone."

It is very early days for Bluetooth, but an indication of where the technology could take the advertising industry may be coming to a pub near you later this year.

Jim Mullen, head of interactive at marketing services firm Arc Worldwide, has been working with a vending machine company to install Bluetooth transmitters on its drinks, food and cigarette machines.

This would not only allow the company to check stock levels remotely but, with the participation of one or more sponsors, provide Bluetooth networks for sponsored promotions.

"The kit only costs a few pounds to fit to a machine and it's got a route back so it can be really clever," he points out.

"If a drinks company were sponsoring it, it could change offers during the day or see what's not selling well ahead of a delivery and put out a two-for-one offer on it. Where this gets really interesting, is you then get groupings of pubs or other outdoor public spaces that then provide a network around a particular area, such as Soho.

"Then, with good customer relationship management, a brand could know, for example, that you used to buy a particular product and so send you a reminder offer as you come out of the tube station."

Mullen is working on a final deal with the vending machine firm and talking to a well-known drinks brand, which he hopes will result in a service being launched later in the year.

If it happens, 2005 will go down as the year when Bluetooth started to enable posters, outdoor screens and vending machines to interact with consumers and get the client's brand name into the one personal device that is guaranteed to be by their side.

There may be concerns over whether the initial invite to opt-in could be seen as intrusive but certainly recent research from the Mobile Marketing Agency suggests Bluetooth has a huge role to play in outdoor proximity marketing.

"Among 18 to 34-year-olds, particularly in the younger parts of the age range, Bluetooth is channel of choice for receiving and sharing content," says MMA chairman, Nick Wiggin.

"The encouraging news is that they [consumers] see it as any other media channel and so expect to be advertised to through it. The market appears very willing to receive sponsored content and offers, so long as they're opt-in and compelling.

"What's also encouraging among the older part of that age group is that business people on the move are using the technology to synchronise mobiles, PDAs, laptops and computers. So the technology is a huge opportunity that's being widely used and now comes as standard on most phone and PDAs. It's a huge new opportunity."

Factfile

? 47 million people in the UK own a mobile phone

? They are increasingly technology-literate – 42% have changed their ringtone

? 68% of Nokia owners have played a game on their handset Source: Analysys/Mori/ Nokia


What is Bluetooth?

When the Scandinavian-dominated mobile phone industry was looking for a catchy name for technology that would link handsets and computers, the Danish king Blaatand (Bluetooth) sprang to mind. Just as he unified Denmark and Norway, this new wireless technology would unite telecommunications and computing, the reasoning went.

Bluetooth allows phones to communicate over the airwaves with other devices equipped with the radio technology, such as other mobiles, computers, personal organisers and, most commonly, earpieces that allow hands-free conversations. In so doing, these devices can swap files and be synchronised to one another, without the cost of sending information over a mobile phone network.

Although the technology was originally designed to send data over just a 10-metre distance – all that is required by an earpiece – it can be tweaked to broadcast information to phones up to a distance of 100 metres at a speed equivalent to home broadband access.

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