The growing number of people surfing the Web on mobile devices offers yet another outlet to reach people on the go. Mobile websites—those streamlined to fit the screen of a smartphone—host banner ads that are similarly pared down. Those ads, however, still offer all the eye-catching graphics of the traditional Internet, as well as the ability to pinpoint voters geographically.
Unlike text messages sent to supporters already registered to a campaign’s list, these ads might reach undecided voters.
“The last two banners I see might be the ones that change my mind, or they might not be,” says Dan Goikhman, co-founder of MoJiva, a New York-based company that helps businesses buy ads on mobile websites. “But the fact of the matter is, it’s a way to reach a highly engaged audience.”
More than 40 million people visit the mobile Web at least once a month, according to Jason Spero, vice president of marketing for Admob, an advertising network for mobile websites.
True, you won’t find many 70-year-olds glued to their iPhones. Still, the mobile audience is equal parts men and women, with a good mix of ages between 18 and 44. The heaviest users are under 30, according to Spero and other industry executives.
This summer, presidential contender Barack Obama launched a mobile website. MoJiva recently began adding political blogs to its mobile blog reader, moblogga.mobi. And Boston-based go2 Media even operates a mobile website for election news.
One campaign asked about taking over advertising space on that site and others in late October and early November, says Tim Solt, go2’s senior vice president. The ads would target voters in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other swing states.
But while they’ve shown interest, campaigns have been slow to shower money on mobile advertising.
“It’s been like pulling teeth up until now,” says Todd Jackson, who oversees sales and advertising for Cellufun, a company that creates online games for mobile devices. One game features Obama and John McCain in an animated boxing match.
The most exciting technologies, known as location-based services, allow advertisers to hone in on people based on where they are at the moment, whether that’s around the corner from a Dunkin’ Donuts or within walking distance of a voter-registration table.
The technology is mostly in the experimental stage and depends on people letting advertisers find them—and on advertisers not abusing the inside scoop.
“We’re probably a little late to catch anything ground-breaking for ’08,” says MJ Nash, chief strategy officer of Wandersmart Technologies in Reston, Va. The company connects retailers to mobile customers. But, she says, the technology holds potential for 2010 and beyond.
Not everyone takes to the Web on their cell phone, or wants McDonald’s to know where they are at any given moment. Nevertheless, the ability to reach people beyond the short prose of a text message is promising, says David D. Burstein, founder and executive director of 18 in ’08, a nonpartisan group that hopes to mobilize young voters.
Burstein, who turns 20 this month, expects a barrage of text messages reminding him to take part in his first presidential election.
The best messages—both this month and after the election—will offer more than a reminder. They’ll deliver a number to call for directions to the polls, steps on applying for an absentee ballot or other helpful links.
“Especially with young voters, that’s the big challenge,” Burstein says. “Yes, a lot of us are registered. But actually turning us out involves a little bit of hand-holding. I’m not against hand-holding. But if we can get a reminder that makes it that much easier for us on Election Day, it can make the difference between a bunch of people standing around and thinking about voting and instead saying, ‘Let’s go vote.’”