How Small an Audience Is It?

Nielsen announced today that it’s going to start measuring how many people use mobile internet and watch mobile video to give marketers a better sense of who they can reach with mobile ads. The new service, called Mobile Vector, will launch in the U.S. in July 2007 and be part of a new Nielsen Wireless division.

This is all well and good, but it doesn’t change the real problem with advertising on mobile web or video – that the potential audience is not only small (Nielsen estimates some 33 million people total in the U.S. used mobile web last month, and 8 million for mobile video), but that no one is really sure what works and what won’t annoy people to death. At least one marketer I’ve spoken with, Burger King CMO Russ Klein, told me he thinks mobile ads are a red herring. When I spoke with him last week he told me he thought the real way to reach large numbers of consumers via cellphone is through branded mobile games — not ads. Mobile games don’t cost much to develop, and people are currently paying to play them on their handsets. There’s also a lot more reach, too. “About a billion and a half of those handsets are game-capable, and consumers do want games,” says Klein. “Very, very few mobile users, even on an opt-in basis, want the intrusion from an advertiser oh their mobile phones.”

If the wireless providers will play ball, a brand can create a decent branded cell phone game or other entertainment at a low price, or make it free for users. Score a hit, and people will spend hours with your brand. That sure beats experimenting around with tons of untested ad models as you wait for those Nielsen numbers on mobile web and video to climb up.