Mobile phone marketing -- How advertisers are turning Bluetooth into Greenbacks

Jul 25 19:08 2007 James Wong Print This Article

Have you heard of Bluetooth Marketing? If not, you soon will! Popular in Europe for several years now, it allows advertisers to send coupons, videos, or other multimedia content to the Bluetooth enabled mobile phones of people nearby.

So,Guest Posting you're walking down the street past the local cafe.  All of a sudden, you get a message on your mobile phone -- it's the cafe, asking if you want to download a coupon for a free cappuccino. You press OK, and the coupon and a menu is downloaded straight to your phone.  You browse through the menu, and, feeling a bit hungry, you turn around and head back towards the cafe for a quick snack and a cappuccino. You present the coupon on your phone's screen and get your drink. You're happy, and the restaurant just turned a passer-by into a customer, thanks to Bluetooth Marketing.

So, aside from the funny name, what exactly is Bluetooth Marketing? How does it work? And what does this mean for the average consumer?

By now, many people are already familiar with Bluetooth. It's a standard feature on almost every new cell phone sold today, as well as many laptops and desktop computers. One of the more common uses for Bluetooth is to connect to a hands-free headset, but it can actually do a whole lot more. Bluetooth is a standard that allows many different types of devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. So, with Bluetooth, your cell phone could also connect to your computer to synchronize your contacts list, transfer songs and ringtones, even upload those pictures you just took with your camera phone.  What's more, if your friend also has a Bluetooth phone, you could easily send them your pictures, songs, videos, games, or other files stored in your phone, all without having to worry about having the right cables to connect. 

So, what does this have to do with marketing? Well, through some clever use of technology, companies are now using Bluetooth to send their latest promotions to the mobile phone -- that ubiquitous device that almost everyone uses and carries with them at all times.  How does it work?

A small, Bluetooth enabled file server, specially configured for this purpose, is mounted in a busy location.  The server will continuously scan the area for Bluetooth enabled devices as they come within range (up to 100 meters).  When found, it sends the user a message asking if they wish to receive the advertiser's content. This could be a coupon, a video, Java game or any other multimedia file. If the user responds with a Yes, the file is sent automatically. If they respond with a No, the server logs this decision, and will not ask the same user again the next time they come within range. This so called "blacklisting" feature ensures that users are not continuously bothered with requests to download things they don't want.

And, unlike text messaging, Bluetooth transmissions are free, so users don't have to pay to receive content. What's more, since files don't pass through any cellular carriers, Bluetooth Marketing works even where there is no cell signal, such as subway stations or other "dead" zones.

So what are the benefits and pitfalls, both for prospective businesses looking for a new and unique way to connect with their customers, and for consumers, who may view advertising on their cell phones as a sort of invasion of privacy?

For advertisers, Bluetooth Marketing allows them to send their promotions to people for very little cost. Aside from the initial purchase of the equipment, Bluetooth Marketing campaigns are essentially free to run. Since file transmissions via Bluetooth are free, it doesn't matter if they send 100 messages or 100,000. More importantly, users who choose to accept the message inevitable take the time to look at it. This differentiates Bluetooth marketing from other types of advertising, which goes largely ignored by the target group. Advertisers also have the opportunity to market their products and services based on the proximity of the consumer. For example, restaurants can send coupons to people as they walk by; movie theaters can send video trailers of new releases to people standing in line, etc. What better time to send promotions to customers than when they are physically close?

From the consumer's point of view, Bluetooth Marketing may present some unique concerns. Would people be spammed with ads they don't want as they're walking down the street? Will advertisers be able to record their cell phone numbers and use it for marketing purposes?  And what if someone doesn't want to receive this kind of marketing -- ever?

Fortunately, most of these issues have been addressed. Again, Bluetooth servers must always get permission first from users before any content is sent. And if the user refuses, the software remembers this, and will not ask again in the future. This ensures that only people wishing to receive content will get it -- a benefit to both advertiser and consumer. Also, personally identifiable information is never collected by the system. The server only detects each phone's MAC address, a unique hardware ID, but nothing else. It cannot collect phone numbers or any personal information from any user. So users never have to worry that their phone number or anything else is being collected and used by the advertiser. And, of course, users can always choose to never participate in any Bluetooth campaign by simply setting their Bluetooth to "invisible", so they won't be found in the first place.

Bluetooth Marketing has been popular in Europe for several years now, and is only now beginning to catch on in the United States. With applications beyond just simply sending coupons to customers, many types of businesses can take advantage of this unique technology to connect with their customers in a fun and personal way.   So the next time you're walking down the street and you get an unexpected message on your phone asking if you want a free cappuccino, just say Yes, and look around you. You may not have noticed the cafe on the corner, but they noticed you!

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About Article Author

James Wong
James Wong

A serial entrepreneur, Mr. Wong has started five successful and highly diverse businesses, ranging from a satellite tracking company to a financial futures trading firm. One of his current companies is involved in the emerging field of cell phone marketing. You can visit their website at


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