Verizon -- Can You Hear Me Now?

Coming early in the year ahead, Verizon customers will be seeing -- that's right -- seeing their first banner ads on news, sports and weather sites among others that users visit and display on their mobile phones. This morning's New York Times is reporting that the decision has some major implications for users and advertisers along with many risks. Ad averse consumers could cancel if irritated enough by this new barrage of advertising and switch to other competitors. Some view the cell phone utilities the way they look at cable companies. There is lots of churn among mobile customers who endure poor service, inconsistent coverage patterns and unimaginative products among other things. Now this. What are these utilities thinking?

More profit -- that's what they're thinking. Just as radio stations did after consolidation when they threw out of the rule book on hourly commercial limits to impress their Wall Street backers. Just as the television networks did in adopting shorter more frequent ads. Just as newspapers did when they stuffed their Sunday papers for decades with ad circulars that made the paper seem like an excuse to carry all those ads. The thing these examples all have in common -- besides being traditional media companies -- is that they are all in transition, some on the ropes as the interactive revolution and a new generation takes hold.

Mobile companies probably can't be faulted for wanting to get into the act. When you see what Google has made from search ads and how the Internet has exploded from banner ads you almost can't blame them. However, new age Internet and mobile companies need to be cognizant of not just ways to advertise and monetize but how to help their sponsors be effective. Radio long ago got in the habit of giving lip service to this, but it is not alone. Too little concern is exhibited for delivering results for advertisers.

In my USC Music Media Solutions Lab, students working for corporate sponsors on independent projects, have kept an open mind to all sorts of advertising that delivers something to them that they actually want. There seems to be a desire for more creative and intelligent ways to reach the next generation. I am extrapolating here, but it appears to me that banner ads are not what they had in mind. The reason Gen Y likes -- or shall I say tolerates -- banner ads is because they are so easily skipable. And this is a multi-tasking generation that is under pressure on their Internet to buy something at every click. It's not working. Consider the industry standard 1 or 2 percent click rate success benchmark. They show signs of remaining in control of what they let influence them. I think it is a generation that actually likes advertising -- creative, effective advertising -- that consumers all so frequently see very little of.

And that's the issue to keep in mind. No one can stop the stampede to monetize the Internet and our mobile world. Advertising fools are born every minute. But ultimate success is going to go to the media companies that focus on being effective rather than mindlessly jumping on the next trend. In other words, making advertising that works using changing and exciting technology. And my sense is that utilities such as mobile phone and cable companies should remain delivery systems not content providers or marketers. Look no further than cable advertising to see how long it took for cable companies to monetize its growing subscriber base and while somewhat substantive, it's success pales in comparison to almost anything Google.

If mobile companies don't watch it -- and it appears they aren't thinking this way -- running banner ads has more potential to drive customers away or make them irritated or both. To borrow a phrase from Verizon's successful campaign to emphasize its superior coverage network, "Can you hear me now"? Mobile carriers are the deliverer. Content companies are the providers. And consumers are the deciders. You haven't heard the last of this long assault on our digital future by companies in search of ad revenue, but all ad revenue is not created equal and some strategies are going to backfire. This has the earmarks of one of them.