Google Looks to Mobile Advertising -- a Reason for Android?

Last Updated Aug 14, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

Mobile search for coffee.There is a mania in this country for mobile advertising. Not on the part of consumers at the moment, and not necessarily on the part of advertisers, either. The big supporters are the people who want to facilitate the conversation of commerce and make a buck in the process. The latest bellying up to the bar was done yesterday by Google's Eric Schmidt in an interview with Jim Cramer. The question is whether that bartender is serving Kool-Aid or not, and how much of the company's activities, like the handset operating system Android, may actually be there to support the mobile message.
We can make more money in mobile than we do in the desktop eventually-- and the reason is the mobile computer is more targeted. Think about it: you carry your phone, and your phone knows all about you-- we can do a very, very targeted ad. Over time we will make more money from mobile advertising-- not now, but over time.
Some of the reaction was swift and questioning. And when former dot-com cheerleader Henry Blodget plays the cynic, you know things are a little squirrelly:
We gave up on the breathless "mobile's gonna be huge" promise about five years ago. We're also just not buying that crap about Starbucks zapping us with coupons as we walk by. All that would make us do is want to throw our phones through the window. And we're not yet persuaded that the market for folks searching for "pizza" from their geo-located mobile phones is, in fact, ginormous.
Let's break it down a bit. There are two topics in play here: mobile advertising, and mobile commerce. The two are not synonymous. I could see how people might object to paying for traffic that was a Starbucks coupon -- although coffee could be an impulse buy, I'd bet that people are either heading to one of the chain's locations or not, and that an invasive ad wouldn't generally tip the scale.

But a more generally concept of advertising often targets behavior at a later time, setting up the unconscious decision to choose company A over company B when the person is ready to buy. If that concept absolutely didn't work, you'd probably see a lot less repeat commercials. Radio advertising successfully focuses on a drive-time audience, so at least on the surface, the concept of mobile advertising on a device probably has some business merit. Granted that there are some drawbacks: consumers to accept the intrusion and carriers would have to give up enough revenue for an ad network to be economically feasible. But there does seem to be something there.

The interest in mobile ads, coupled with Schmidt's words "your phone knows all about you" now puts Android into a new light. Perhaps it's not a wild business foray unrelated to Google's main line. What if Android is designed as much as a behavioral advertising platform as it is a handset operating system?

Forget about controlling the desktop or the handset. Google wants to control the advertising delivery mechanism, and what better way is there, if you think mobile ads will be bigger than your already successful business, than to own the operating system and browser?

iPhone screen image via Flickr user Andre Charland, CC 2.0.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.