Wi-Fi for the Marketer

Wi-Fi for the Marketer

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Tessa Wegert

October 28, 2004

Some inventive wireless companies are opening a new world of online marketing opportunities.

You’ve heard the hype: Wi-Fi is booming. Businesses large and small are partnering with telecommunications and development companies to create Wi-Fi hotspots.

With nothing more than a wireless-enabled laptop or PDA, consumers can surf via wireless networks in public places, including restaurants, cafés, hotels, and airports. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Borders, and Marriott hotels have already introduced this technology into many of their establishments. Sprint is busy launching high-speed access in select airports, convention centers, hotels, even truck stops across the country.

The Yankee Group reports the U.S. will have 72,480 hotspots by 2007, and estimates the number of global wireless Internet users will grow to 1.78 billion by the same year. In-Stat/MDR puts the latter number even higher. The company says the market is likely to gain an average of 186 million new subscribers annually to reach a total of 2 billion by 2007.

The spread of wireless Internet is exciting for interactive advertisers. Thanks to some inventive wireless companies and product vendors, wireless Internet opens up a whole new world of marketing opportunities.

Take Wi-Fi services in hotels. When wireless companies sell to such establishments, the pitch often includes mention of in-house advertising. Like strategically placed interactive kiosks, wireless Internet encourages guests and customers to log on. Hotels have an opportunity to pipe in location-specific information peppered with in-house and third-party ads, incentives, and coupons. These may include ads for the hotel restaurant or discounts on nearby shows and events.

Easing the Wi-Fi advertising process (and funding hotspot costs to allow businesses to offer free Wi-Fi), Wi-Fi ad networks are another new trend. FreeFi Networks officially launched its ad-supported wireless hotspot network earlier this year. It’s expected to be fully available to advertisers in November.

The company will target hotel and transportation locations as well as cafés and quick-serve restaurants. FreeFi’s president, Larry Laffer, reports ads will be displayed adjacent to the user’s browser and sold on a CPM basis.

Wireless Internet also facilitates traditional advertising through what can only be described as an online/offline ad hybrid. Already, marketers are using digital picture frames, such as those sold by Wallflower Systems, to display ad messages in public locales.

Wallflower’s product allows marketers to transmit digital images from their PCs to frame screens via a Wi-Fi network (or any broadband connection). Pictures can be updated quickly, easily, and frequently. The company’s clientele includes boutiques, hotels, and restaurants, which use the frames to advertise their own services and specials as well as third-party messages. Never again must a barfly endure the same old ad poster for an entire month. Mount a digital frame in its place, and advertisers can keep creative fresh and timely.

Although Wallflower already offers both consumer and business software to accompany its handsome frames, it will soon introduce another product, the Wallflower Display Appliance. About the size of a hardcover book, this computer can deliver images via Wi-Fi to any projector or TV display. According to Jason Enamait, the company’s marketing manager, the product will be available to businesses and advertisers within the next 30 days.

If you’re like millions of other consumers, you’ve probably already pondered the possibilities of wireless Internet. It’s time to see Wi-Fi from a marketer’s point of view as well.

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