In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: No place safe from mobile ad plague

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Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Enjoy the last commercial-free corners of cyberspace while you still can; they won't last long

How we laughed the day our boss, then-editor of the Herald Gavin Ellis, told us that one day we'd be reading the news on our mobile phones.

We felt sure the ink had gone to his head as he outlined his future utopia: streaming headlines piped hot to everyone's device. Sure, we sniggered; confident that phone news was about as likely as John Banks winning the upcoming Auckland mayoralty. As if!

Perhaps Gavin didn't explain it that well, because in my mind's eye I still saw an entire newspaper broadsheet page squished into the space of a mobile phone display (the phones were bigger when they first came out, but the displays were tiny). Or perhaps I'm just a bit thick: certainly I laughed the same way the day I saw the first ever Spice Girls video, proclaiming loudly that no group with such a lame moniker would ever be more than a one hit wonder. I also violently disagreed with my mother when she predicted, in the 80s, that flares would come back into fashion.

"You've got to be joking!" I bellowed in response, secure in the knowledge I would still be wearing fluorescent green zipper-leg jeans with brown and white striped leg warmers for many years to come.

But flares did come back, John Banks wore the mayoral chains, the Spice Girls had (factory-made) hit after (factory-made) hit and indeed, mobile phones got better. So much better that there are now about four million cellphones in use in New Zealand and some 1.9 million people have subscriptions to get the internet on them.

Lord only knows what everyone is doing online on their mobile phones. I know in our house Wikipedia is most frequently consulted, usually in the interests of petty point-scoring during an argument about some arcane matter of politics or musicology that seems to define everything wrong with our relationship at that particular point in time.

But apparently much more than de facto marriage umpiring by cellphone is possible. And where users go-eth, there follow-eth advertising. And so, for the first time ever this year, statistics on how much is spent on advertising in the country have included a small but still reasonably significant spend on mobile phone advertising.

There is only one way this spend will be going in the future: up. Even someone as consistently wrong as I am about trends can see that. In the United States, spending on mobile advertising is already in the billions, with more and more companies looking to exploit the space. According to mobile advertising experts Flurry.com, people currently spend about 23 per cent of their time on mobile devices, (second only to TV, at 40 per cent) but the medium only gets 1 per cent of ad spend - for now.

It's a little bit like the situation before online advertising took flight - explosive interest in the web, but for a long time there was little understanding of how to use it to reach the consumer. And judging by the number of pop-ups, flashing lights and uninspiring banner ads that remain, some might say many advertisers still don't.

Perhaps the more pressing question is, can we not just have one little corner of the digital world unsullied; untouched by the tentacle-like arms of advertising? Can we not just watch - in peace - an ad-free re-run of Shortland Street as we wait for the bus? Is there any way to avoid the Tui girls, the Beaurepaires guy, the toilet-paper covered puppy? Look at our digital history, and it's pretty clear the answer is a resounding no.

- NZ Herald

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