If brand marketers were looking for innovation and excitement at
Mobile World Congress, they might have been disappointed. This year
was all about evolution, and the big reveals at the show reflected
Yes, there were iterative improvements in handset performance,
but the underlying theme was how mobile is increasingly enmeshed in
our lives, at home, in the car and in industry. Here are five
impressions from four days in Barcelona:
1. Old school handsets beat smartphones.
Outside of the tech and gadget press, the breakthrough handset at
this year's show was a throwback, Nokia's revived 3310. This
reimagined phone, costing just $50, won the publicity war. Another
produce to mine the retro space was The Light Phone, a credit-card
sized handset that only allows calls to 10 contacts.
It would be foolish, however, to ignore the new launches. There
was Sony (a MediaCom client) with its Xperia X2 Premium, the first
handset with a 4K display, providing better quality video than most
of us have on our living room TV. Sharper handset screens will only
encourage us to watch more video on mobile.
2. Protection you pay for. Sir Martin Sorrell,
CEO of WPP, told the show that the level of ad spend on mobile was
embarrassingly low. Just before the show, I wrote that many
marketers would be looking for reassurance that that money would be
seen by real people. The truth is, we've had the tools to deliver
this for a number of years, it's just that it costs brands more to
indemnify themselves from risks like bot fraud and viewability. Too
many brands have been willing to knowingly take the risk, and are
now trying to blame the ecosystem for this widespread issue.
But the need for reassurance means an open door for many
vendors. Security specialist Kaspersky, for example, was at MWC
talking to brands about security within apps, as well as the use of
biometrics and voice recognition.
3. It's a car show. There are now almost as
many cars at MWC as there are new handsets. Jaguar Land Rover and
Shell (a MediaCom client) teamed up to launch the first in-car fuel
payment system, enabling consumers to use the in-car touchscreen to
pay for gas. The consumer benefit here is not just to make
refueling faster but, for parents, to do so without disturbing
Another motor brand, Mercedes Benz, promoted its ability to
"Connect you to your car and your car to the world." Using AI, the
German brand's intelligent in-car assistant makes suggestions based
on driver recognition and context. For instance, if it's raining,
or if you use your car on a commute, this Mercedes can make
recommendations on route updates or provide alerts that make the
driving experience safer. Mobile, it seems, can keep us safe, as
long as we don't actually make any calls while driving.
4. Deals on the high seas. MWC is becoming more
like Cannes every year. Along with lots of yachts, more of the
action is moving into private conversations around the show. Many
of the ad:tech deals we'll hear about in the coming year will have
been concluded or, at least, initiated here.
What this year's show did prove was that venture capitalists are
still willing to fund me-too mobile advertising ventures. Too many
of the start-ups on the display were simply selling very similar
services to existing players.
5. VR still to cut through. Last year, you
couldn't move for virtual reality. This year, there were still lots
of headsets and demonstrations, but no breakthrough applications.
While you might expect delegates to the world's biggest mobile show
would be bored by VR demos, there were still plenty of takers
trying out last year's big thing. (The most interesting application
I saw used virtual reality headsets for training medics. A great
idea, albeit for a specialist market.)
Like the connected seal -- used to monitor the well-being of
harbor seals -- and last year's connected cows, this year's MWC
demonstrated that mobile technology is finding an ever-increasing
use in areas where remote monitoring or testing at scale is
The lack of a breakthrough product at MWC 2017 isn't a
criticism, but is actually a good thing. Without revolutionary
products to understand, we now have 12 months during which everyone
can focus on getting the current ecosystem working as effectively
Article originally published for Ad Age on March
To read Ben's Five Things to Look Out for at Mobile
World Congress | Click here.