April 01, 2008


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...


M-AD said...


M-AD said...

Dear Mr. Jolly,

I read with interest your article about mobile spamming in China.

I hope this is going to be a wake up call for the whole industry, from companies delivering the ads to professional advertisers.
Everybody is rushing into Ad-Money, forgetting the most essential point: respect for the Client !
It quite surprises me that the alarm bell come from China, but other countries like USA, Europe, Singapore and HK are on alert and finally focusing on Privacy .

I'm in the Ad-Business and every day I hear of new companies worldwide offering the same platform and solution, which is just inefficient , unproductive and violate the clients right , privacy and peace in the daily use of technology, from SMS to e-mail and web.

They all focus on the money making machine and they don't even see or think about the consumer, the impact , the rape.
It also blow my mind the fact that considerable Brands and Companies expose theirself with not desirable campaigns.

Unfortunately, I end up on just a few companies and concepst which are "Consumer Friendly", they are still in the shadow because of their more complex but efficient solutions, because of their sizes or being start ups fighting with giants.
But those guys saw it right. They focus on permission driven systems, incentive for users, and other intelligent solutions with focus on Privacy , which I define "Users Friendly".

The time has come for those Companies and the close future may reward their efforts and their deep thinking.

The Big guys they should probably look into this nick and invest into updated, intelligent, sophisticated systems and concepts, or faster directly into those Companies which saw the future and care about us, the users.

Great Reading !
The M-Ad Man

M-AD said...

Dear Jetsetter,

Your reading this morning inspired and made me nervous at the same time.

As I read that China Mobile apologized publicly for the massive spamming and abuse, I may ask some questions to Air China: I got into a 3h flight to HK and I got about 30 minutes of promotion of their Airplane Screen !!
...And no I didn't get any discounted ticket for the vision, business class had 8 sits and no private screen to chose the Entertainment !!

Well, I invite all of you , writers , readers , to list those the companies which are entitled to win the Award Price for Discretion, Privacy and Consideration to Public.

In all this jungle, we have to say thanks to some companies and some special 'people' which yet, know how to entertain us and create interest and life in the ad-messages


The Jolly Jetsetter said...

Dear M-Ad Man
You correctly expose these campaigns, where the impression on the consumer is so poor that you wonder if much thought was put in, beyond the "guinea pig" approach. Advertising companies may be trying all sorts of Web and Mobile services to see which clicks; but I also feel that the services that are making it into the mainstream, are those services that are developed by the larger and established players in the field.

Basically, the telecommunications companies are so conservative and bureaucratic that they would rather run a poor service with a "friend" then take a risk on an innovative service with a start up. I am witnessing this in the Philippines, where large press launches are being made about mobile advertising, with companies that primarily exist within the SMS, MMS, world.

When are brands going to realize that to really capitalize on the many possibilities of the mobile industry, they need to get away from the big guys and focus more on the smaller, creative, companies. This industry is wide open- why go with the old players when you can tap into the new? Especially at a time when the public is yearning for something different and the regulatory board is not that suffocating (they will be).

The essence of your comment has been on my mind for the last few weeks. We are in similar fields and I guess you and I think and feel alike regarding this subject. There are so many innovative and passionate outlets to use within the industry, and these companies choose the staid, old fashioned campaigns????

Anonymous said...

spam is so irritating to begin with. waste of time. what more if it will be via your mobile phone. that must be so annoying. like what you've said, information is power, so if they can come up with a system or something wherein ads will be regulated and sent to only their targeted audience/market - that will just be a breath of fresh air!

The Jolly Jetsetter said...

Well, that is in fact the lynch pin for Mobile Advertising. Everyone is trying to find that right combination that balances between spam and consumer interests. Do not expect too many changes anytime soon, this is going to be a work in progress!