Focus Media and China Mobile have been dealing with serious public backlash these last few days. Any company that can rattle an 800 pound gorilla like China Mobile deserves some attention. Presently, success stories in China involving hundreds of millions are not as uncommon as one might think. Contracts and licenses are still reliant on close relationships, whether nurtured or blatant-- like token board seats and “partnerships.”
Focus Media was started by a young entrepreneur, whose connections and adept assessment of the local market, has resulted in all of the LCD screens you see in the many elevators and building lobbies throughout cities like Beijing and Shanghai. These screens play expensive advertisements that are justified by the fact that millions of Chinese have nothing to do but stare when riding overcrowded elevators. Clever. Lucrative.
Venturing beyond screens and into your mobile handsets, the article I was forwarded read: “Chinese authorities said Monday they are investigating complaints that millions of cell phone users were spammed with unwanted text messages from advertisers...the uproar over what China's media has dubbed “Text-message gate” has drawn apologies from a major advertiser and the country's biggest mobile phone carrier.” This spam hit more than 200 million mobile phone users through China Mobile and China Unicom. Wow. That is 4 times the total mobile subscriber population in the Philippines.
So, what exactly is the problem here, spam messages are common in other countries? Well, for one, my guess is that Focus Media used the profiles garnered from one of their other existing services (Screens, Online, and a few others). That is a big deal and one that the rest of the world has not been able to address. Just who owns your information?
I have invested in the Mobile and Advertising field because I feel that information, specifically, personalized information, can change the Mobile Phone and Computer into a completely different experience for the subscriber. It can become a gateway for advertisers to give that personal touch, One that is welcomed by the consumer because it is both entertaining, relevant and interesting. Your life can create this personalized bubble-- at least with regard to how the world interacts with you.
SPAMMING does the complete opposite. It turns the Mobile Phone and your computer into a source of irritation. What really goads me is the fact that first impressions count. Look at how China Mobile and China Unicom have reacted: stronger rules and regulations; limiting Focus Media's gateways. This company has made it that much harder for the rest of us to operate. The public is now up in arms, complaining about the privacy they expect (they do not realize their profiles have been used in many other forms for many years). They feel cheated—violated. As the effects of this ripple outwards, you will find other telecommunications companies taking a similar stance. I do not blame them, the best way to protect the consumer is to design rules that weed out all but the most promising and value added services.
For Focus Media, its a big drop in their share price and a less lucrative future. For the rest of us, it is the start of the battle between how far we will allow advertising companies to go. the information is out there and in their hands, we will just have to see whether it becomes the interactive and personalized future that I would like to see? An annoying, “pop up” windows experience? Or that small and balanced, middle ground...