Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fixing your bathroom sink...with your cellphone

The newest digital technologies face one enormous non-technological hurdle: getting ordinary people to use them.

According to mobile content researcher M:Metrics, however, only 6% of U.S. cell phone subscribers used their device to watch a video recently. At the same time, advertising expenditures on mobile ads are projected to be in the billions this year. Right now most marketers are using text ads, with web and video placements in development. Not surprisingly, iPhone owners outpaced all other cell phone users in their downloading and web searching by a huge margin.

But Home Depot is counting on two developments to move video use on mobile devices into everyday experience. First, new technologies make it easier for users to search for, watch, and share, and save mobile videos in close to real time, even going so far as to store playlists on your device.

The second development is smart marketing: Home Depot has developed a series of “how to” videos that are accessible in store and easily downloadable to cell phones. Imagine getting information from a helpful clerk about installing that cool Indonesian-looking ceiling fan, only to get home and get involved in other things like making dinner, driving to a soccer game, and watching the Stanley Cup Finals. By the time you finally get started on that ceiling fan, you wish you’d taken your memory-enhancing supplements that morning. But now, while you were in the store you could have entered an SMS short code into your cell phone and downloaded the instructional video. Back home, you can watch the video and remember to put the mounting plate in before you attach the rotor blades.

What’s great about Home Depot’s strategy is that it offers a necessary and ordinary application for mobile device use. It may be a while before I’m downloading and watching television shows on my iPhone (after all, someone needs to buy me one first) – but I’d get the instructional videos immediately. That's the theory, at least, and Avot Media and Home Depot are already trying out instructional videos downloaded to your cell phone to help with the installation of a new line of ceiling fans.

I don’t have any marketing data on this, but personally, this approach to in-store media is a lot more appealing than video cooking demonstrations in supermarkets. The current formats still seem like 1950s-era Home Ec movies rather than Emeril or even Julia, though I admit I'm biased by my "cooking is an art form" mentality.

On the other hand, my home repair skills are not nearly as eclectic, innovative, or confident as my cooking, so I think I’ll do what the instructions tell me for now. And my favorite part? If I need to, I can always go back and take another quick look on my cell phone. One of our first home-improvement projects ever was putting up a shed from a kit. It came with a video, which we popped into the VCR (yes, that long ago), watched, and then promptly forgot as we mounted the window upside down and on the wrong wall. Perhaps we might have avoided these mistakes if there could have been a quick check on the cell phone video.

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