Alcatel-Lucent Joining Mobile Ad Rush As Permission Marketing Middleman

Alcatel-Lucent is trying to carve itself a place in the fast-growing mobile advertising space, launching a service with which agencies can buy permission-based mobile ads across multiple carriers and networks.

The French telecomms vendor, historically focused on the more conservative areas of networking, is an unlikely entrant to the space, but its mobile advertising vice president Thomas Labarthe told me the firm has augmented its existing “application enablement framework” by creating a brand new media arm comprising 50 to 100 staff across several countries.

Named Optism, the new service starts by Alcatel-Lucent partnering with mobile carriers (it so far has Orange in Austria, E-Plus in Germany and “there’ a big list in our pipeline”), then lining up media buyers. The ad buyers then create and book ads using Optism’s web-based tool. “We enable agencies to purchase and campaigns and get all sorts of analytics,” Labarthe said, adding the buying agency, operator and Alcatel-Lucent share revenue.

So far, Optism is claiming “many” agencies amongst its ad-buying customers, but names GroupM as the “main” one and is talking with Aegis and OMD. “We can aggregate inventories across networks and present it in an agnostic way,” Labarthe said, calling Optism the obligatory “one-stop shop”.

Mobile advertising is attracting many new entrants, but Optism is sticking to the uniquely personal qualities of mobile.

“AdMob and Quattro are display ad networks,” Labarthe added. “Display is not very targeted and offers a relationship between an advertiser and user which is static, you don’t build a history. What we are powering is permission-based marketing, using several types of formats, including response mechanisms.

“We are trying to avoid what you have in online display ecosystem where the revenue spend by an advertiser is shared with so many stakeholders that, in the end, the media owner is left with a very small share of revenue.”

Specifically, Optism supports SMS and MMS mailouts. An example in the announcement shows a lunchtime text from McDonalds ask a user which meal s/he fancies, from two choices. Replying by sending “2” invokes another message from McDonalds bearing a URL to the WAP page for a Big Mac. It’s not the best-sounding example – more effective-sounding are the discounts and offers that are also promised.

“End users are keen to receive branded messages, provided their preferences and privacy are respected, Labarthe says. “We’ve hired a team of experts from the media and advertising space. That was not part of the DNA of Alcatel-Lucent.” The team numbers staff with experience from OgilvyInteractive, MTN Networks and Blyk, the nascent ad-funded MVNO that was last year bought by Orange as part of an effort to offer discounts and third-party offers to customers that take advertising.

Labarthe said Alcatel-Lucent firm got the idea 18 months ago: “We’ve been talking about mobile advertising for several years and there is a lot of scepticism involved – rather than come with a brand new format, we want to keep it simple but go big.

“We are hearing a very clear call from our customers to help them extend in to new value chains, they need to diversify; some operators need some support to do this. That’s what Alcatel-Lucent wants to achieve, not just providing network elements.”