VSJ – October 2007 – Work in Progress

In 2005, Wesley Cornell, AMIAP was recognised by Growing Business magazine as one of the thirty best young entrepreneurs in the UK. He’s held senior positions in Internet and telecommunications companies. Here, he introduces his latest venture, LiveAd.

So, you’re walking down the street past the local café. All of a sudden, you get a message on your mobile phone — it’s the café, asking if you want to download a coupon for a free cappuccino. You press OK, and the coupon and a menu is downloaded straight to your phone. You browse through the menu, and, feeling a bit hungry, you turn around and head back towards the café for a quick snack and a cappuccino. You present the coupon on your phone’s screen and get your drink. You’re happy, and the restaurant just turned a passer-by into a customer, thanks to Bluetooth Marketing.

So, aside from the funny name, what exactly is Bluetooth Marketing? How does it work? And what does this mean for the average consumer?

Most mobile phone shoppers have probably heard of Bluetooth by now. It’s a standard feature on almost every new mobile phone sold today, as well as many laptops and desktop computers. One of the more common uses for Bluetooth is to connect to a hands-free headset, but it can actually do a whole lot more. Bluetooth is a standard that allows many different types of devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. So, with Bluetooth, your mobile phone could also connect to your computer to synchronise your contacts list, transfer songs and ring tones, even upload those pictures you just took with your camera phone. What’s more, if your friend also has a Bluetooth phone, you could easily send them your pictures, songs, videos, games or other files stored in your phone, all without having to worry about having the right cables to connect.

So, how does this relate to advertising and, specifically, LiveAd? Well, through some clever use of technology, companies are now using Bluetooth to send their latest promotions to the mobile phone — that ubiquitous device that almost everyone uses and carries with them at all times. How does it work?

A standard PC with a USB Bluetooth stick and the LiveAd software is placed on site, preferably at a location that receives a large amount of foot traffic. LiveAd will continuously scan the area for Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones or PDAs as they come within range (up to 100 metres). As each device is discovered, LiveAd sends a notification to the phone requesting permission to send a file or, perhaps, multiple files. This could be a coupon, a video, Java game or any other multimedia file. If the user responds with a Yes, the file is sent automatically. If they respond with a No, LiveAd logs this decision and will not ask the same user again the next time they come within range. This way, people are not constantly prompted to accept content that they don’t wish to receive.

And, unlike text messaging, Bluetooth transmissions are FREE, so users don’t have to pay to receive content. Since nothing is going through the mobile phone companies’ network, nobody is charged. This also means that Bluetooth Marketing can be used even in the absence of a mobile phone signal, as in underground stations or remote areas, for instance.

So what are the benefits and pitfalls, both for prospective businesses looking for a new and unique way to connect with their customers and for consumers, who may view advertising on their mobile phones as an invasion of privacy?

For starters, companies choosing to use this technology can run an ongoing marketing campaign at very little expense. Aside from the initial purchase of the equipment and the LiveAd software, Bluetooth Marketing campaigns are essentially free to run. Because files sent by Bluetooth are free, it would not matter if a company sent 10 promotions or 10,000. More importantly, users who choose to accept the message inevitably take the time to look at it. Contrast this with more traditional forms of advertising, which, even in a best case scenario, create very little impact on the average consumer. Advertisers also have the opportunity to market their products and services based on the proximity of the consumer. For example, restaurants can send coupons to people as they walk by; cinemas can send movie trailers of new releases to people standing in line, etc. What better time to send promotions to customers than when they are physically close?

From the consumer’s point of view, Bluetooth Marketing may present some unique concerns. Would people be spammed with ads they don’t want as they’re walking down the street? Will advertisers be able to record their mobile phone numbers and use it for marketing purposes? And what if someone doesn’t want to receive this kind of marketing — ever?

In fact, the technology does incorporate ways to resolve these issues. Again, LiveAd must always get permission first from users before any content is sent. And if the user refuses, LiveAd remembers this and will not ask again in the future. This ensures that only people wishing to receive content will get it — a benefit to both advertiser and consumer. Also, LiveAd never collects personally identifiable information. LiveAd only detects each phone’s MAC address, a unique hardware ID, but nothing else. It cannot collect phone numbers or any personal information from any user. So users never have to worry that their phone number or anything else is being collected and used by the advertiser. And, of course, users can always choose never to participate in any Bluetooth campaign by simply setting their Bluetooth to ‘invisible’, so they won’t be found in the first place.

Bluetooth Marketing is now becoming popular. With applications beyond just simply sending coupons to customers, many types of businesses can take advantage of this unique technology to connect with their customers in a fun and personal way. So the next time you’re walking down the street and you get an unexpected message on your phone asking if you want a free cappuccino, just say Yes, and look around you. You may not have noticed the café on the corner, but LiveAd has noticed you!

You can contact Wesley at wesley.cornell@livead.co.uk. For more information regarding LiveAd, see www.livead.co.uk.

[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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