Previous attempts at collaboration by operators have nearly all ended in lawyers. Will Weve be any different?
On February 24th a group of UK operators got behind a collective m-commerce scheme that they predicted would generate one billion euros in revenue within three years.
No, I'm not talking about Weve, the much-discussed UK JV.
I'm referring to Simpay. The February 24th in question was February 24th, 2004. And the three year's time took us up to 2007.
Amazingly, the one billion euro bounty failed to materialise.
As older and greyer readers will know, Simpay fell apart in ignominy before it could ever begin its vision of a payment service that let consumers pay for small-ticket items using their phone bill – no matter which operator they subscribed to.
T-Mobile withdrew at the last minute, thus confirming what many always believed – that operators could never be trusted to collaborate successfully on anything.
The spectre of Simpay hovered over the Weve event at Ronnie Scotts in London earlier this week. The venue was packed, as advertising royalty (ooh, look, there's Martin Sorrell!) gathered to hear what the JV had to say.
They applauded as nothing less than a supergroup trio took the stage. Never mind Bill Evans, Paul Motian and Scott Lafaro (please write in if you've heard of them), here were Guy Laurence, Olaf Swantee and Ronan Dunne.
And what beautiful interplay and modulated dynamics these three masterful CEOs displayed up there.
Songs included 'I get along with you very well' and 'I love you for commercial reasons'.
To be fair, they addressed the Simpay thing straight off the bat, and they also mentioned the days when they failed to recognise that SMS might need to be interoperable to take off.
It was honest, but a reminder of all these failures hardly inspired confidence in their ability to collaborate. And they said “everyone laughed” when they promised mobile would swallow the camera industry, but as the estimable Bill Ray (from The Register) said to me, the idea there was to sell MMS – another project that failed.
So why will Weve be any different? I asked Tony Moretta, Weve's marketing boss, and he had some interesting answers.
For a start Weve is not an association, it's a JV. The stakeholders have sunk in 'tens of millions' so they can't exactly do a T-Mobile, simply rock up and say 'fuck this shit' (my words, not Tony's, although he does have a glorious gangster-style name).
Second, it's not (yet) about tricky old payments, about which Weve CEO David Sear admitted: 'the payment piece is tough...it's a nightmare'.
No, for now, Weve is set up to give agencies info on 15m opted-in customers. They pay for this data, then use it to send targeted messaging campaigns via text.
In time, this will be expanded to embrace video messaging, ads or indeed any clever format the crazy ad guys with their rotating bow ties can come up with.
Moretta also told me the three operator members are paid per message rather than just getting back a dividend on the overall performance of Weve. So there's genuine commercial pressure's on them to commit their own data to the project.
Also, the JV won't send any messages out based on an opted-in phone number alone. Unless there's supporting behavioural or personal info, the account stays dormant to avoid what could be construed as spam.
I chatted to a few people in the audience, and got good feedback on what they'd heard despite the lack of a decent bass solo from Dunne.
I'm not surprised. If it's true that people look at their phones for two hours every day and that here's an organisation offering accurate data on how to get in front of that audience, then why wouldn't they be supportive?
It all comes down, like so much before, to implementation. Can Orange Shots, O2 More and Vodafone play nicely together at Weve? Can the messages prove as engaging as TV? Can Weve convert a weary public already overwhelmed with PPI spam?
Apparently Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons are already running Weve-based campaigns, so that's a start.
Voda's Guy Laurence concluded: “If you want to be the CMO that didn’t sign up The Beatles, ignore everything we’ve said today.”
Incredibly brave words in such a public forum. Let's hope they don't come back to haunt him.