Agency Implications in Mobile Advertising, Part 1

After writing “The Mobile Marketing Schism” and seeing more traditional ad campaigns touting mobile (did you catch the latest Orbitz TV ad for its mobile access service, capitalizing on recent flight cancellations? Brilliant delivery.), I wonder if Mobile 2007 rivals Internet 1.0 of the late ’90s.

When I posed this question to many in the industry, there was a pretty consistent response: “No, because everyone’s been informed by the failures of Internet 1.0. But with all the hype, we’re definitely in danger of getting there, and marketers will be frustrated.”

What’s an industry 10 years in the making to do?

Agencies Need Education

Certainly, everyone agrees a lot more education is needed at the agency level, and some hold the mobile industry itself accountable. “We’re consistently on the road educating Madison Avenue,” said Rob Mesirow, show director of the CTIA Wireless 2007 trade show.

But as the HyperFactory‘s CEO Derek Handley noted, “The people who need to be at our conferences aren’t there at all. We’re just talking to ourselves. It’s improving, but it’s still not there.”

Is it the old chicken-and-egg issue? Agencies are reluctant to send staff to conferences until there’s more demand for mobile. But isn’t that demand contingent on agencies knowing enough to pitch mobile to their clients?

What Are the Adoption and Targeting Issues?

No one disputes that there are enough mobile users in the U.S. market, but is the reality of how they use their mobile phones up to snuff for advertising? “Users aren’t quickly adopting the things the industry would like them to adopt,” admitted Dale Gonzalez, Air2Web‘s CTO. “Text messaging and ring-tone downloads are exceeding projections, but local-based technologies, mobile search, and MMS are still not well adopted, and WAP usage is spiky and inconsistent at best.” But even text messaging campaigns, which are really mobile marketing campaigns, typically depend on another channel to drive the action.

What about the audiences mobile can reach — does advertiser perception match reality? How does this perception affect inclusion of mobile into an overall media plan? “You can’t approach mobile advertising to cast a wide net,” stressed Gonzales. “You have to develop a campaign to catch a particular audience. Right now in mobile advertising, the reality is that you’re better off reaching a young audience and having a [text] messaging component besides just a WAP component. Right now, it’s pretty hard to target middle-aged folks.”

To help sell the advertisers, the industry feels it needs more granular third-party research data about who uses what features, how, for what purpose, and when. Media plan decisions require some justification to the advertiser.

Optimists will tell you these challenges motivate them. “I see all kind of encouraging improvements,” said Jason Spero, marketing VP for AdMob. “Improvements in the ecosystem, devices, technology, speed, user mobility, and bookmarking. We’re invested in learning with advertisers, which is why we try to keep our minimum [buys] low. I think others who are charging high minimums might be a danger to advancing this medium.”

“We’re really pushing testing,” emphasized Chris Arens of Ad Infuse. “You should be testing and learning now, because in 18 months the access will be there. And 18 months isn’t really that far away.”

Don’t Ignore Complexity

Mobile advertising’s complexity is a topic most insiders try to diminish. “Complexity is my main worry,” Handley said bluntly. “We’ve been doing mobile marketing and advertising for seven years, and our approach is to remove the bias and serve the brand. But with more players entering the market in the past six to nine months with a single deliverable or technology, the agencies are getting a more narrow view of what mobile is, and they’re not always aware of all the options out there and the complexities involved in selecting and delivering across all those options.”

These mobile advertising options, as Handley lists them, include:

  • Mobile Web banners
  • Mobile Web off-deck and on-deck
  • Mobile content placement
  • Pay per click/pay for performance
  • Mobile search
  • Advergaming
  • Mobile broadcast television
  • Mobile streaming TV
  • VOD (define)

Complexity aside, Medio‘s chief advertising officer, Omar Tawakol, stresses coming together for the greater good. “People in the mobile space can’t get together, talk about their complexities, and expect advertisers to come to the door. We have to work together to make it simpler instead of carving out our little fiefdoms.”

More on mobile’s agency implications in part two.

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