A Call to Marketers: Help Us Make Mobile Work

Much of what the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) does on a mobile front, we do to make the lives of brands and agencies easier: reducing the friction, cost, confusion, or complexity of adding mobile to the media mix. In general, in our efforts to standardize mobile ad sizes and measurement, demystify mobile discrepancies, track the evolution of phone and tablet audience measurement, and others, ad buyers emerge as the beneficiaries, without having to do much except stay informed about what we’re working on and push ad sellers to adopt, comply, or conform.

This week’s call to action is a little different. For the sake of better, richer mobile and cross-media advertising, IAB has launched a major new effort called Make Mobile Work. And for mobile to really work – for mobile advertising to fulfill its potential – we need brand marketers to step up and help.

Today, half – or sometimes even more than half – of media consumption happens on mobile devices (phones or tablets) and increasingly we start on one screen and move seamlessly across others. Viewers assume that content can adapt to this behavior seamlessly, and that means that advertising must follow suit. After all, advertising is about solving a marketer’s objective of reaching their customer and getting a message across. It’s not about platform. Ad creative must render on mobile screens and/or across screens of different sizes. This does not always happen today, and as a result important messaging relationships get lost.

Marketers need to focus on this reality to ensure the success of their campaigns and brand building. We believe that giving marketers tools and educating them to ask the right questions will make this transition happen faster and more successfully. Make Mobile Work is a call to action and an educational outreach effort aimed at getting all marketers aware of, and excited about, HTML5 as the key technology for creating engaging mobile and cross-screen ad creative. HTML5 (which stands for Hyper Text Markup Language version five), is the latest revision of the industry-standard language for creating Web content. And while we normally think of HTML as being about creating entire pages, it equally applies to creating elements on pages, including ads. HTML5, a dramatic improvement over its predecessors, enables mobile ads that are better, richer, more dynamic, and more interesting. And it’s not just for mobile alone; HTML5 works on PC browsers, and increasingly will help power smart TVs as well. So embracing HTML5 and tools that can create content in it will enable ads that can scale across different devices and screen sizes.

What are we asking for, exactly? If you’re a marketer, you may be worrying at this point that the IAB is going to send you back to design school to master the nuances of < img> tags , Web canvases, or drag-and-drop events. Not at all. The technical ins and outs of creating digital ads can stay safely in the hands of those who know them best. But we do believe that marketers need to care about HTML5, and start insisting that their creative agencies care about – and master – it as well. The days when the mobile piece of a campaign can be an afterthought animated GIF are behind us. Your mobile customers deserve better!

We launched Make Mobile Work at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert this week, via an open letter to marketers signed by the IAB and 16 of our members with the call to marketers to insist on HTML5 in every ad campaign they run. Over the course of 2014, we will follow that with a steady array of research and case studies on iab.net and a webinar series exploring different aspects of HTML5. We’ll also continue our work exploring and writing about the ramifications of HTML5 for ad creation, helping designers understand and work with it better.

Media companies have been pushing steadily into the cross-screen future. Content publishers of all stripes have embraced and deployed mobile websites and apps, and redesigned their PC websites using responsive or adaptive technologies to make them more flexible across different-sized screens. As the pages get more flexible, so should the ads, and HTML5 is a major ingredient in enabling that.

The statistics have been repeated so often we’re probably all a little tired of them, but they are still the reason for all this: According to the latest IAB Harris survey, 57 percent of American adults have smartphones and 44 percent have a tablet. And what are they doing on these devices? Everything. Marketers, agencies, and ad sellers alike stand on the verge of an exciting cross-screen, omni-screen future. Although it requires change from the status quo, embracing HTML5 (along with helper technologies like responsive or dynamic creative, MRAID for in-app ads, and others) is the best way to address, serve, and ultimately advertise to phone and tablet audiences.

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