Isn’t it funny how we’ve been hearing that ‘This Is The Year For Mobile’ every year since, oh, about 1863?

This seems to have been driven by hugely bullish forecasts from various analysts over the past decade, and the desire among investors to get this message out to market in order to Make Things Happen. Yet mobile marketing has never been the big story, for any number of reasons.

While marketers like the theory of mobile, the practical opportunity to reach out to consumers via their mobile phones is fraught with complexity. And the fact remains that there doesn’t seem to be too much happening out there, despite the fact that many toes have been temporarily dipped in the water.

But it will happen! Sooner or later, mobile marketing will officially take off. After all, everybody’s got one, right? Right? I remain desperately unconvinced. Unless local search takes off on the mobile platform I think this could be a squib waiting to get wet.

Here are my ten reasons why I think mobile advertising is a non-starter:

1. User Experience Is Everything

Forget about advertiser demand (or the lack of it) for the moment and focus on how people actually use their mobile phones. It tends to be a task-driven affair (do something) or a time-filler (find something to do). People use their phones here and there, in bite-sized chunks. What better way of annoying these folk by filling up 30% of their screen with an ad, which might take 40 seconds to download? Directories, classifieds and paid search might ultimately be the saving grace for mobile advertisers, but only if these mobile services work well to begin with, and achieve high levels of usage.

2. But It Doesn’t Have To Be Intrusive!

Yeah right, like web ads don’t have to be interruptive. It’s just that they somehow still are, for various reasons (laziness and a lack of common sense among media buyers, lack of willingness to spend extra on targeting among advertisers, and lack of technology implementation among publishers). Are we to believe that mobile advertising will be less intrusive than web ads like interstitials and pop-ups? A banner on a mobile is going to take up more screen estate than its web cousin. Which is comparatively more intrusive…

3. Testing ! Testing! On 7.2m Tiny Screens

Now, let’s look at the obvious limitations of mobile devices. The handsets are small, the screens are small, and there are about 7.2m* different devices on the market at any given time (*unnecessary exaggeration). With internet ads you typically test them on various web browsers to make sure they work. In the future this may be viewed as a near-painless experience when compared with the testing efforts required to ensure compatibility across those 7.2m** mobile devices (7.2m = ‘several hundred’).

4. 24/7 Reach

As a platform, mobile seems perfect, since people carry them around everywhere. Advertisers can reach out to these unwitting consumers at any time of the day, in theory. Ah yes, but how many SMS marketing messages do you get these days? And since people aren’t always cruising WAP sites, there’s only a limited appeal there. So although the devices have spread like wildfire, what’s important here is adding some kind of value to the user, and avoiding interruptive marketing at all costs.

5. Laser Guided Targeting

Network operators know a little bit about mobile users, which would allow targeting based on location and demographics, and maybe even interests (depending on how well the networks observe and make sense of user behaviour). The future of advertising is all about targeting, but since the network operators own the data they’ll no doubt command a hefty premium for targeting (see the next point). How easily third parties will be able to operate mobile ad networks remains to be seen, but I suspect it will follow the usual pattern of pain for a chosen few.

6. Swinish Networks

The business models adopted by UK mobile phone networks are a result of their activities in the late 1990s, when they coughed up around £20bn for 3G licences. God knows what they’ve been spending since, on infrastructure and the wholesale luring of low-value consumers with handset subsidies and price wars, but will they ever get a return on that investment? Maybe they will. Maybe they’re looking to ‘do a Google’ and pin on some kind of ad model to hoover up some new revenues? Might work, I guess. The point is, networks are notoriously difficult to work with, and their love of the Walled Garden model is highly sucky, if understandable from a revenue – if not a usage / critical mass – perspective. Remember that you may need to pay fees to various parties involved in your campaign – mobile networks, technology providers, content providers and ad networks will all potentially fight for a share of your ad spend.

7. Measurability Sucks

One of the great marketing hypocrisies in recent times was the demand for measurability to the Nth degree for internet ads, despite the fact that it is far easier to track response via the web compared with the black boxes of TV, print and radio. How can you accurately determine where to spend your ad budget if you can’t see what works? Well, the bad news with mobile is that it isn’t as measurable as the web. For example, you can’t serve cookies via mobile. I’m sure this is an area that will improve in time, but right now it is difficult to accurate track mobile ad campaigns. You are too reliant on the respondent to hand over data, and that doesn’t always happen.

8. ‘A Key Part Of The Marketing Mix’

How often do you hear this phrase? It is in fact partly accurate – mobile should play a key part in your business, but should the medium be used for marketing? Maybe to existing customers, but I don’t see mobile as the best platform for customer acquisition. Mobiles work well as a response mechanism, which is why we see shortcodes on billboard and press ads. Maybe it is better to continue to use the mobile channel in this capacity, as a fast and easy – if limited – communication device? Or to focus on customer retention and driving repeat business? This, for me, is the real opportunity in mobile.

9. What Works Best Works Best

One of the unknown unknowns here is that while mobile banner ads may work, they may not work as well as online skyscrapers. Or newspaper classifieds. Or TV ads. Or paid search ads, for that matter. Since mobile is a new channel for advertisers it will need to fight for its slice of the ad budget, just like online has been doing over the past five years or so. Even now, internet ad spend is vastly underrepresented when compared with media usage, and – I bet – return on investment. The only reason it has grown significantly is that most online ad spend is pumped into the likes of Google Adwords, which works well, and which – unlike mobile – can be accurately measured. Without paid search, internet ad spend in 2007 could be a non-event. So how easy will it be for ‘mobile’ to successfully lure a chunk of the marketing budget?

10. There’s Something Much Better On The Horizon

There really is. It is an extension of a passive advertising medium that accounts for roughly half of all advertising spend. Yes, it is TV, but it is TV with a twist. Yup, you guessed: IPTV. This will allow highly targeted, highly measurable ads, of the sort that everybody is familiar with. It will surely be the saving grace of the ad industry when it hits the mass market, and specifically when people start hooking up their TV sets to the internet (rather than watching TV on their laptops, which isn’t really the idea…). We will see segmented ads that are better targeted to consumer groups. After all, why show Mr X a female-orientated ad if he lives in an all-male household? Critical mass is still a few years away, but I think IPTV – rather than mobile – is the Holy Grail for the likes of Google. And if that proves accurate, it will tell you all you need to know about the comparative merits of these two mediums.

So, is this harsh, fair, or valid? I think that depends on where you’re sitting. Do I think businesses should use mobile? Yes, but not if the focus is on customer acquisition…