How to Market to Generation M(obile)

Young consumers have been notoriously difficult for advertisers to reach. Mobile marketing might provide the answer, but only if companies understand some basic principles.

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Cell phones, personal digital assistants and other handheld devices have become daily necessities for many teenagers and young adults. That fact has not escaped the attention of companies that have had great difficulty reaching young consumers through traditional marketing approaches — TV and radio commercials, magazine ads, direct mail campaigns and so on. In theory, the mobile platform provides the perfect mechanism for reaching young consumers. A large retailer, for example, might send a group of teenagers at a shopping mall various electronic coupons on their phones to promote special discounts. In reality, though, the success of mobile marketing campaigns has been mixed, in part because many companies don’t understand what truly influences whether young consumers will accept having branding and marketing communications sent to them on their mobile devices. Will they, for instance, be enticed by receiving electronic coupons on their cell phones, or will they be annoyed?

To answer such questions, we recently conducted a study in the United States and Pakistan that investigated why some young consumers are willing to participate in mobile activities — accessing mobile content, registering for contests and permitting companies to deliver advertisements via their cell phones — while others aren’t. In particular, we looked at the relative importance of a number of factors, including consumers’ personal attachment to their cell phones, their concerns for privacy and their willingness to “opt in” and accept permission-based marketing. (See “About the Research.”)

About the Research »



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2. L. Blum and S. McClellan, “Mobile Users Welcome the Ads They Ask for,” Adweek, Sept. 11, 2006, 11.

3. “Mobile Ad Biz Comes of Age,” May 14, 2007,

4. Akoo International, “m-Venue,” 2008,

5. Harris Interactive, “Mobile Advertising and Marketing USA,” March 2007,

6. For example, see I. Grant and S. O’Donohoe, “Why Young Consumers Are Not Open to Mobile Marketing Communications,” International Journal of Advertising 26, no. 2 (2007): 223–246.

7. F. Sultan and A. Rohm, “The Coming Era of ‘Brand in the Hand’ Marketing,” MIT Sloan Management Review 47, no.1 (fall 2005): 83–90; A. Rohm, F. Sultan and D. Wesley, “The 2006 World Cup: Mobile Marketing at adidas (A),” Richard Ivey School of Business case no. 9B07A016 (London, Ontario, Canada: Ivey Publishing, 2007); and A. Rohm, F. Sultan and D. Wesley, “The 2006 World Cup: Mobile Marketing at adidas (B),” Richard Ivey School of Business case no. 9B07A017 (London, Ontario, Canada: Ivey Publishing, 2007).

8. “GSMA’s CEO, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz Discuss How to Connect the Next 50 Million Mobile Users in Pakistan,” March 26, 2007,

9. See, for example, Grant and O’Donohoe, “Young Consumers”; and Sultan and Rohm, “The Coming Era.”

10. A. Rohm, F. Sultan and D. Wesley, “Brand in the Hand: Mobile Marketing at Adidas,” Richard Ivey School of Business case no. 9B05A024 (London, Ontario, Canada: Ivey Publishing, 2005); and B. Skog, “Mobiles and the Norwegian Teen: Identity, Gender and Class,” in “Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance,” ed. J.E. Katz and M. Aakhus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 255–273.

11. H.H. Bauer, S.J. Barnes, T. Reichardt and M.M. Neumann, “Driving Consumer Acceptance of Mobile Marketing: A Theoretical Framework and Empirical Study,” Journal of Electronic Commerce Research 6, no. 3 (2005): 181–192.

12. S. Plant, “On the Mobile: The Effects of Mobile Telephones on Social and Individual Life,” (Schaumburg, Illinois: Motorola, 2006); and Skog, “Mobiles and the Norwegian Teen.”

13. H. Nysveen, P.E. Pedersen and H. Thorbjørnsen, “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33, no. 3 (2005): 330–346.

14. G.L. Urban, F. Sultan and W.J. Qualls, “Placing Trust at the Center of Your Internet Strategy,” Sloan Management Review 42, no. 1 (fall 2000): 39–48.

15. P. Barwise and C. Strong, “Permission-Based Mobile Advertising,” Journal of Interactive Marketing 16 (winter 2002): 14–24.

16. See, for example, Bauer, Barnes, Reichardt and Neumann, “Driving Consumer Acceptance”; and Nysveen, Pedersen and Thorbjørnsen, “Intentions to Use Mobile Services.”

17. Sultan and Rohm, “The Coming Era.”

18. “GSMA’s CEO.”

19. Harris Interactive, “Mobile Advertising.”

20. K. Ridley, “Global Mobile Use to Pass 3 Billion,” June 27, 2007, www.


The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Institute for Global Innovation Management at Northeastern University for financial support of this research. The authors would also like to thank the faculty of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Institute of Management Sciences at the National Institute of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan for assistance with data collection for this research.

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