The iPhone Effect

DETROIT While Apple’s iPod has myriad marketers hoping to glean some consumer cred via tie-ins with its heralded music players, the iPhone so far is standing alone. No branded skins, no catchy taglines from those who sell accessories and, thankfully for some, no Bono.

But in June, Apple will open up its iPhone platform, via what is called a software development kit (SDK), to third-party mobile software. The move is projected to open the door for a wave of marketers who will seek to exploit the “it” factor of the device.

Brands will be able to ply users with subtle advertisements via widgets, games and other platforms that will attempt to use the touch-screen phone as a ladder to brand awareness.

The SDKs will allow mobile game developers, financial service firms and anyone else to make iPhone versions of their wares, adding to the iPhone effect.

Some aren’t waiting for June. Earlier this month Intuit developed an iPhone-only version of Quicken Online. The financial software developer also will create SDK applications for the iStore as are game makers Electronic Arts, Sega and Namco.

BMW last week announced that its new campaign for the X6 crossover would feature a mobile site for iPhone users. When BMW started putting together its site for mobile devices, “our first priority was to make sure it worked with the iPhone,” said Patrick McKenna, marketing communications manager at BMW, Woodcliff Lake, N.J. The automaker was one of the first to include an Apple adapter in its vehicles.

L’Oreal Paris recently launched its own site devoted to iPhone users. “The iPhone offered the best way into a mobile strategy,” said the company in a statement.

“The iPhone will drive mobile marketing because the buzz is expanding awareness of advanced data features,” said Nic Covey, director of insights at Nielsen Mobile, New York.

“The more you have people throwing stuff at the wall, the more likely you are to have applications that stick,” Covey said.

Still, not all of the news apps are guaranteed to make users gaga. “There are big risks for marketers to get too involved with early developers on these emerging platforms.”

The iPhone Effect
Proponents of mobile marketing are hoping the iPhone will help accelerate the channel. Many thought marketing on mobile phones would be more robust by now. However, the lack of a mass market user-friendly phone like the iPhone was just one of many hurdles.

While Apple-inspired cell phones from LG, Samsung and others mimic iPhone attributes like the touch screen and user interaction, they are missing the point, said Iain Gillott, president of iGR, a mobile communication consultant in Austin, Texas. “The value of the iPhone to me is that I get software updates from Apple,” “You just plug it in and it works, and that is what everyone is missing.”

IPhone owners represent just one in every 200 of the nation’s estimated 252 million mobile phone users. Still, the device also is the one most are looking at to push mobile marketing to a level of acceptance.

IPhone users are more advanced in data consumption, too. IPhone customers are almost 12 times as likely as others to use their device for video and mobile TV, according to a study from Nielsen Mobile (Nielsen Mobile and Brandweek are units of the Nielsen Co.).

They are also six times as likely to use wireless Internet. “So the sensitivity to advertising is already very high,” said Gillott.

“I think mobile advertising is going to be big, but we’ve been saying that for years,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst.

“This could be the year we see more mobile ads. If someone can figure a way to send messages without ticking everyone off, then we’ll be flooded,” he said.