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Wireless group to mull advertising standards

Seeking a balance between burgeoning business models and consumer acceptance, the Wireless Advertising Association meets tomorrow to weigh the criteria needed for future advertising guidelines.

Seeking the delicate balance between burgeoning business models and consumer acceptance, the Wireless Advertising Association is meeting tomorrow to weigh the criteria needed for future advertising guidelines.

The group, known as WAA and developed from the Internet Advertising Bureau's (IAB) wireless task force and the Wireless Ad Industry Association, comprises more than 200 companies invested in the wireless medium. The list of participating members reads like a Who's Who of technology; companies include America Online, Yahoo, DoubleClick, Media Metrix, Motorola and Sprint. Nokia, Nielsen Media Research, OmniSky, SF Interactive, Lot21, Palm and Adknowledge also are involved.

"This group is a very broad and diverse community; it brings in the advertising agencies, the media companies, the content providers, the hardware side, as well as the enablers," said Andy Fessel, one of the group's founding members and senior vice president at Media Metrix.

"We're all sitting down at the table at once and there's a spirit of cooperation and compromise built in."

Like the IAB, which defined online advertising standards in its early years, the group is hoping to get ahead of the curve by outlining clear guidelines for ads in the wireless medium.

But this is no small task considering the number of devices on the market, the fast-paced nature of the industry, and the challenge of finding a consensus among the players.

"It's like wrangling cats who really want to be there," said WAA board member Mark Avnet, chief technology officer of Lot21, an interactive marketing company based in New York.

"If we don't get consensus it doesn't move the industry forward at all, and more importantly, it does the consumer a disservice. If advertising doesn't make the consumer happy, it doesn't work."

The group is looking to define guidelines in five areas: creative standards and ad models, ad delivery standards, ad measurement, consumer acceptance, and privacy.

Much of tomorrow's meeting in San Francisco will be about definition.

For example, the group charged with creating standards for ad models must look at the various devices available--and even what is not available yet--and determine what is possible.

Because wireless-enabled devices could be anything from a personal digital assistant (PDA) or cell phone to an ad on a gasoline pump, classifying kinds of creative standards can be challenging.

"We're looking at Wireless takes center stagewhat an ad should look like on a wireless device. Should it take up the screen, is it just a link, is it a phone number you can call? There's just a myriad of new messaging opportunities for wireless devices," Avnet said. "More importantly, what do we think consumers will accept?"

Because the room will be filled with competitors, topics like business models and billing are off limits. Companies from Europe, Asia and Latin America are also involved in the group. And the WAA plans to branch off internationally to better address privacy issues specific to different countries.

"The next big push is centered on publishing some of the guidelines for these initiatives, including creative standards, measurement, ad delivery and prospectives around privacy," said Tim DePriest, the chairman of the WAA.

But setting standards as the market moves forward may be elusive.

"Because this is such an immature industry, I almost guarantee that whatever we put out, if we are 80 percent correct, that's more than anyone can hope for. A portion of the guidelines that we publish will need refinement as the market evolves," DePriest said.

There will be groups of 20 to 50 people addressing each of the five areas, aiming to define relevant terms to their topic.

"The definition of standards, and especially of 'best practices,' is doubly important for wireless. A cell phone is a very personal device, and it's important that people don't feel intruded upon and don't feel their privacy is violated by wireless advertising," said board member Tom Bair. He is the director of convergence technologies for SF Interactive and group leader for the creative standards and ad models group.

"That's one of the ways things will be different with the WAA. Everybody has a stake in doing things right," he said.

For Bair, and most of the members, it is an exciting time.

"Like the earliest days of the Internet, (the wireless industry) is wide open," Bair said. "This is a chance to participate in its earliest stages and hopefully help make it work both for the companies involved and for the consumer, because just as with the Internet, a lot of wireless data will have to be paid for by advertising."

The group, which had its inaugural meeting last month in New York, said it plans to present a study on the various topics early next year.