Saturday, March 24, 2007

That Tiny Screen just got Tinier

Your cellphone is set to be assailed by ads very soon

Advertising is a wonderful industry. It employs some of the most creative folks on earth. It makes us aware of lots of useful products and services we may otherwise not know about. And without it, newspapers, magazines, and TV shows wouldn't exist as we know them. And it is often very entertaining too.

But most people will also agree that advertising can be an irritant at times. That is why I am somewhat disconcerted by the prospect of advertising on cell phones taking off in a big way, as it appears set to do. Yahoo, Google have both shown extreme keenness to cash in on this new form of revenue generation.

Why is this a bad idea? Because displaying an ad on a small cellphone screen will shrink the effective display area to an even smaller size. Although I use a Blackberry, which has one of the larger screens around, I would hate to have any more clutter on that screen than there absolutely needs to be. And I can only sympathize with people who have regular cellphone screens. But it is bad for an even more insidious reason: while print ads can be ignored, and TV ads can generally be sidestepped by changing channels or using recording technologies such as TiVo, it will be well nigh impossible to escape the ads being pushed to your cellphone screen.

If proof were needed that people don't welcome cellphone ads, a survey found that 64 percent of Europeans polled said they had "zero tolerance" for mobile phone advertising in any form.

Here's the horse sense view on this: Pushing ads in this manner helps the interests of cellphone services providers (a new revenue stream), cellphone makers (increased demand for cell phones with larger screens), and advertisers (presumably, increased revenues). Given this formidable alignment of interests, sheer commercial pressure will ensure that this phenomenon will grow. Expect lots of irrated cellphone users. Over time, things will improve as advertisers get smarter, and cellphone screens get bigger. And users will just learn to live with a feature that derives its legitimacy not from genuine user need, but from the commercial compulsions of the various entities that exist to serve that user need.