Mobile marketing chief on why are mobile ads aren’t so bad and why the ‘Year of the mobile’ is not this year – it was 1978

Rohit DadwalMumbrella was at AdTech in Singapore recently to catch up with Rohit Dadwal, MD of the Asia Pacific arm of the Mobile Marketing Association.

In this Q&A, Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks talks to Dadwal about the most powerful people in mobile in Asia, the biggest mistake marketers make with the medium, and why ‘The Year of the Mobile’ is not 2013 – it was 1978.

Who is the most powerful person in Asia’s mobile marketing scene?

Asia has strong local figures, with a champion in each market. It’s almost impossible to pick one person for the whole region, but if pressed I’d have to say Joshua Maa at Madhouse in China, who is driving huge change in the world’s largest mobile market.

But there’s also Joseph Gaol at AdStars in Indonesia, Takayuki Hoshuyama at D2C in Japan, Tran Thi Lan Thanh at Goldsun Focus Media in Vietnam, Arthur Policarpio at Mobext in the Philippines, Dave Green at Big mobile in Australia and Deepak Khuranna at Vserv in India, who’s only just started out but is already reshaping the Indian mobile marketing landscape.

What is the biggest story in mobile in APAC at the moment?

The story is not about mobile per se. It’s about how mobile works with other media. Mobile is not developing in a vacuum. We’re seeing how in a very small market like Vietnam, mobile is being increasingly driven by video, and how rich media is driving mobile in more developed markets like Australia.

Who do you think is doing the best work in the mobile marketing space?

I’d say Coca-Cola, Unilever and McDonald’s are the best advertisers. They have agencies and vendors trying to smash through the glass ceiling for how to use mobile. On the technology side, we are seeing an evolution of SMS from being a spam medium to a permission-based marketing tool.

What’s the most common mistake marketers make in mobile?

They want a mobile strategy. This is a big mistake. Your strategy needs mobile as one element of a marketing campaign, but is not a strategy in itself.

What is your favourite mobile campaign?

What Unilever has done with Surf detergent in India, which is still mostly a prepaid mobile market. The campaign used the most common use of the mobile phone in India – the missed call – in an interesting way. The brand called people back, giving them the opportunity to speak to a movie actor. It took rural India by storm. There was no flashy, sophisticated technology. It was creativity in its simplest form. And it worked.

Mobile marketing does not enjoy a great reputation for creativity. What’s going wrong?

Well, first of all I don’t agree with that notion. How can you make a statement like that after seeing the Unilever example [above]?

That said, there are challenges. The stage of development the industry is going through is not so much about creativity, it’s about getting a feel for the medium and how it works. As a fast evolving channel, the expectations for creativity are high – because the perception is that mobile is all about technology-enabled creativity.

But don’t forget that as a core marketing discipline, mobile is only five years old. Yes, mobile phones have been around for a long time, and there are now 5bn mobile phone users in the world. But the marketing element is still young.

Every year seems to be ‘The year of mobile’. In your view which year has been mobile’s year? Or has it yet to come?

It was 1978, when Motorola launched the first phone. We are now in the decade of the mobile. This is the decade that mobile devices are changing the course of marketing.

What are your mobile media consumption habits?

I don’t really consume broadcast media anymore. I watch TV and movies, listen to iTunes and Google search on my mobile, from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed. I consumer a lot of business and industry related content – which is entertainment for me. But I also play games such as Subway Surfer, Angry Birds, Ninja Slash and Scrabble with friends.

Which other industry bodies do you admire for the work they’re doing to promote their media?

The WFA [World Federation of Advertisers]. They’re doing a good of rallying advertisers to get thinking about new media and innovation.

If you weren’t doing what you do for a living, what would you be doing?

Probably playing golf. If not, then I’d be in some field of technology. I started my career when the internet first took hold in India in 1996. I helped set up the first private ISP in India. I later launched MSN and Hotmail in India. After that, I went into mobile. It’s always been the next new thing that has interested me. Who knows what could be next – wherever the next technology revolution lies. Wearable technology? We’ll see.