Project Oscar – It's Not About Advertising
It was no doubt triples all round at Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and Telefonica last night, after the EU gave the green light to the operators' Project Oscar mCommerce joint venture. But what does the initiative mean for mobile marketing?
Project Oscar has been touted as providing both an mWallet platform and a single buying point for advertisers to target customers across all four networks involved (Everything Everywhere is parent company to Orange and T-Mobile). But according to one senior media buyer we have spoken to, the advertising side of the initiative is more concerned with messaging than advertising.
Speaking exclusively to Mobile Marketing, James Chandler, head of mobile at Mindshare UK, explained how his company uses the opt-in messaging databases offered by O2 and Orange in the UK as part of its mobile marketing campaigns for brand clients, in addition to banner ads on mobile sites and in apps, and premium mobile inventory bought through premium networks such as 4th Screen Advertising and YOC.
So, if it was looking to buy advertising for Lynx, for example, it might go to O2 and ask for all the 16-24 year old males in its 10m-strong database, and add a location element to the campaign by targeting the messaging when the recipient was within a certain distance of, say, a football ground.
The beauty of Project Oscar, Chandler explained, was in its pooling of these opt-in databases. T-Mobile has started work on building its own database. Vodafone has not as yet, or at least hasn't said anything publicly – meaning it's potentially the operator with the most to gain from the deal – but seems certain to follow suit.
“It’s pretty exciting for us and for the brands because we won’t need to make three phones calls; we will have one point of contact, and once the optins start growing, suddenly you will have a huge audience of over 15m people,” said Chandler. “That’s bigger than The Sun, bigger than the X-Factor audience, so the humble text message will suddenly become a key mobile marketing tool for brands. O2 and Vodafone will still sell banner inventory on their portals, but for us, this is about messaging, not banner ads.”
When we asked the operator's press office for comment yesterday, it seemed unaware of the EC decision, and its subsequent statement is surprisingly mellow – perhaps because, as the statement suggests, it's expecting to become involved in the future.
“We are pleased the EC has taken a thorough look at the proposed mCommerce joint venture,” reads the statement. “We are still studying the detail but we understand that its investigation has found no significant competition issues. We will continue to monitor developments closely and look forward to the invitation to become a customer of the joint venture on the same terms as all participating UK mobile operators.”
Dave Gwozdz, CEO of mobile ad network Mojiva, thinks that Project Oscar could help open the floodgates to increase marketing spending in the channel – as long as the operators do it right.
“If done correctly, and in a manner that still allows for competition, Project Oscar will encourage brands and agencies to shift advertising dollars from other mediums into mobile,” said Gwozdz. “Advertisers are more and more intrigued with finding ways to reach consumers as they spend less time online and are more engaged with their mobile devices. Consolidating the path to reach massive consumer numbers will help as long as that same consolidation doesn’t mean less efficient pricing due to lack of competition.
“The result, if the the operators invest in the technology to deliver advertising based on the depth of data they will have, should be a better consumer experience with more relevant advertising. And frankly, that may mean less advertising by eliminating the untargeted tonnage we sometimes see today.”
Jonathan Bass, managing director at mobile marketing firm Incentivated, reckons that Project Oscar's marketing element isn't as prominent as its mobile payments features.
“This isn't a mobile advertising initiative; that would be secondary, if present at all,” said Bass. “What's different about this is that the MNOs control the SIM, one of the ways of making NFC secure. This is an alternative to the OEM/VISA or Mastercard option, which achieves security with a separate security chip on the device; Google's, which uses HTTPs and username/password; or the fourth option - a plug-in piece of hardware. For contactless payment, the Google and plug-in options both strike me as inferior.
“This is about mobile operators not being willing to give up the battle. But long term, we as consumers only want one contactless payment tech. Surely one will win and the other wither, and I have no idea which – but for now, this must be a good thing for consumers.”
Rob Jonas, VP and MD, EMEA and global business operations at mobile ad network InMobi agrees that this could be the tipping point for the space.
“mCommerce has been tipped as the next major advance in payments for the last six years, however it is only now that we are seeing mobile operators take the initiative seriously," Jonas said. "The impact that a joint venture like Project Oscar could have on the mobile ecosystem and on the mobile advertising industry as a whole is vast. It is almost impossible to ignore the mobile opportunity any longer, and a venture like this shows how the industry is evolving and taking the lead in the payments sector.”
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