Semantic SMS Advertising Concept

For a long time it’s been clear in my mind where mobile advertising is heading – firmly in the hands of handset manufacturers. Google and Apple now have their own ad networks meaning the two user experience juggernauts will own where the ads come from as well as where they appear.

I keep banging on about the opportunity they have to ‘redefine’ mobile advertising and ‘start from scratch’. What I mean by this is that the limitations of many current methods such as SMS, MMS, Bluetooth and banner ads can be erased because the manufacturers can make up completely new ad channels that utilise features of the phone. And because this will be achieved by using data rather than messaging, it allows for better value for advertisers using CPC, CPA and CPM.  All this has influenced the following concept..

The Concept

On device semantic SMS advertising would turn every SMS the user ever sends or receives into an advertising opportunity for the manufacturer. At first that might sound massively intrusive but it’s all about the execution.

The thought that spawned this concept was making advertising so useful that it could change its perception in the eyes of the user so they wouldn’t even question its placement on the phone. I wanted to blur the lines so the user would see it as a tool rather than a direct ad channel.

It works by recognising keywords  or the meaning of the sentence/conversation within an SMS and adding dynamic functionality to those words. For example, your friend asks you if you want to go to the cinema, the word ‘cinema’ would be highlighted and clicking it would reveal cinemas in the area.

Within a few clicks you can find out film times and buy a ticket, all within the device interface. This purchase can be tracked and the manufacturer gets a cut of the profits.

Other monetization methods include ‘sponsored’ placements.

If you look at this from a user perspective, it feels more like a service than advertising. The key element here is that this is ‘pull’ advertising, the user doesn’t get interrupted or slowed down with what they are doing. They see the highlighted word and make the decision to find out more.

There can be hundreds, even thousands of words/sentences that can trigger dynamic content. Although not every word can be monetised, there should still be an effort to act like a service and provide useful information for certain words/conversations when possible to increase usage.

For example:

Provides weather based on a conversation between two people:

Context Vs Semantic

Although this idea could work using either technology, I wanted to explain the reasons why each has it’s advantages and disadvantages for the end user.

Contextual advertising has been core of online advertising for many years with companies such as Google and Yahoo integrating it within their search engines and other products. It is readily available and generally easy to implement.

The technology looks for a number of keywords within the SMS such as ‘cinema’, ‘food’ or ‘restaurant’ and returns ads or menu options accordingly. For example the message “Let’s go get some food” would show a list of restaurants or food outlets if the word ‘food’ is clicked. However if the message said “That food didn’t make me feel very good at all”, it would still show the same results as the previous message as it has no way to understand what the user meant.

These differences could potentially waste advertisers money (if they have sponsored results, CPM etc) but also affect the usefulness of the feature for the end user.

This is where semantics comes in. Semantic advertising looks at the meaning of the entire message, not just certain words. In the example above it would recognise the user wasn’t actually interested in eating food at all and felt ill, therefore it could suggest nearby pharmacies instead. The ability to understand the persons needs more accurately will benefit the both them and the advertiser immensely. Another example is distinguishing the difference ‘Jaguar’ the animal or the car manufacturer when scanning the entire sentence.

Semantic advertising is still in it’s infancy right now and has arguably yet to be perfected. As we move toward a more ad-funded digital future, it will play a key part in analysing status updates, tweets and any other ‘lifestreaming’ data from users (with their consent of course) to create an advertising utopia.

The Future

Thinking further into the future, this sort of technology would be able to analyse your needs in real time which could influence the advertising you get when you browse the mobile web or watch a video on YouTube.

The only company I can see pulling off this sort of thing is Google, they’re already working on semantic search and currently provide some of the most useful free services on the web. But I expect Apple to be on the case too.

I’ve no doubt they are heading towards more integrated advertising models within the handset user interface.

Comments? Suggestions?