Today we read that Verizon is planning to put banner ads on mobile phone web browsers. Personally, I can't think of a better way to make people not want to use their mobile browser.
I use mine (I'm not a Verizon customer, by the way) occasionally. My take on it: it's nice that you can look at web sites on a mobile phone, but the best thing about it is that it's possible, not the actual experience, which is relatively painful. It's slow. It's hard to find what you want. My provider (Cingular) offers a set of selected web links that is just awful; most of what they try to lead you to is just useless, whereas what you need is buried somewhere relatively inaccessible.
The last time I used it, I was at the airport trying to get status on a flight (because the big boards in the international terminal at Houston's airport are always wrong). I eventually gave up and got the information by calling Continental. It was less painful.
Seth Godin's reaction to this is right on the mark:
According to today's Times, you're leading efforts at Verizon to get banner ads and other advertisements on cell phone screens. The reason? Because advertisers want to buy those ads.
This is not a good reason. In fact, it's a bad one.
A typical cell phone user spends more than $2,000 a year on telecommunications, and the number is going up. For a product with a marginal cost of zero, this is an astoundingly high figure. Why would you risk your market share and what little customer satisfaction remains by selling off screen space to advertisers?
It's classic old marketing thinking: we can put an ad there, so we will. It will interrupt the customer and annoy them, but we can do it, so we will. What are they going to do?
Well, maybe switch providers. Or maybe just not bother to use their phone to look at the web.
People are tolerant of these things only if they're getting something for them. We accept intrusive ads on the web because they make free content possible.
I pay an extra charge for being able to access the web on my phone. The day I have to look at ads as well as pay money is the day that I cancel that service.
I'm hoping that Verizon's experiment fails miserably.