Ads are conventionally targeted at the masses through the various media of TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Ads must reach a great number of potential consumers for the product or service advertised to get maximum publicity and exposure. But strong competition forces ads to be more personalized and advertisers to look for alternative ways to influence users. How can ads target consumers according to their needs at the right place and at the right time? In this Information Age where consumers are bombarded with knowledge and information at a mouse click or phone call away, delivering the right advertising message before it’s even requested can make a world of difference. Anticipating a user’s needs can help businesses to beat the competition to a sale or transaction.

One controversial way to advertise is through personalized tracking via the mobile phone. Our mobile phone not only enables us to make phone calls, send messages, snap photos, and play games, it can help others locate where we are and transmit vital information about our lifestyles and whereabouts. Telecommunications companies have records about our personal profiles which translate into lucrative profit if sold to marketers. Analysis of phone calls and behavioural patterns or text messages can be exploited to target a product or service when it is in need by a customer. How does this work? Advertisers might target to the beginning of a billing cycle when a customer might feel freer with the cash. Location and time can sometimes indicate a person’s activity: a call to a theatre every fortnight might trigger an ad for an Italian meal in a restaurant nearby.

The new frontier in mobile phone advertising spells an exciting era for marketers but may prove to be a nightmare for users worried about losing their privacy. The research firm eMarketer predicts that US spending in mobile ads will grow to nearly US$4.8 billion in 2011. But the danger of carriers losing their customers to rivals is real. At least two industry trade groups, CTIA and the Mobile Marketing Association, have come up with guidelines on getting customers’ permission and sending them constant reminders on any tracking of their calls. A mobile ad distributor, Quattro Wireless Inc., quotes Facebook as a lesson for the wireless industry to strike a balance between cashing in on the new advertising medium without putting off customers or scaring them away.