Medio Launches PPC Mobile Ad Network

Mobile search provider Medio Systems has launched a new pay-per-click (PPC) text advertising platform. Its MobileNow ad network will deliver text ads in search results for its carrier partners as well as to off-deck mobile sites in its network.

Ads will be sold through a self-service, auction-based PPC platform — a unified marketplace for all participating carriers and sites. By doing that, Medio hopes to eliminate the “walled garden” issues many advertisers experience when trying to reach a large mobile audience, Omar Tawakol, chief advertising officer for Medio Systems, told ClickZ.

“[Marketers] don’t want to go to six different carriers to buy one keyword, and we don’t want to have six different carriers buying the same keywords on our network,” Tawakol said.

Medio currently handles white-label search for several mobile providers, including T-Mobile, TELUS Mobility and Amp’d Mobile. Amp’d will be the first provider to publicly announce its participation in the MobileNow ad network, though Tawakol says others are testing the platform now and will announce their participation in coming months.

Ads will be sold both through a self-service platform from Medio and through white-label deals with carriers. Medio is also in talks with several search engine marketing agencies to encourage them to test the platform for their clients, Tawakol said. Medio also announced today that it is bolstering its sales efforts with the hire of Gary Bembridge, former national sales director at MSN, as head of U.S. ad sales.

Medio’s first offering is catering to direct-response goals, Tawakol said. Though it’s decidedly less sexy than the mobile video ads that other companies are touting, it’s much more realistic and in-tune with the needs of today’s marketplace, he said.

“With online ads, direct response ads came first, and proved that they could get ROI. They follow a different adoption curve,” Tawakol said. “Google didn’t go to Madison Avenue first, because for them to commit to something, the success has to be big, and others have to have taken the chance on it first. It takes them a long time to adopt something new.”

As with Web search, Tawakol hopes to prove the concept of Medio’s mobile search ads through direct response advertisers, who are more likely to try new things, and have the budget available to test out new ad products without going through a lengthy approval process.

Medio hopes that MobileNow ads will appeal to four main groups of direct-response advertisers. The first group includes classic direct-response advertisers with “respond now” objectives, such as buying flowers with a phone call. Second are mobile content providers, who are looking to drive downloads of mobile content such as ringtones, games and wallpaper. A third group of advertisers includes mobile publishers looking to drive traffic to their WAP sites.

The fourth group of advertisers being targeted are local businesses looking to drive conversion via a phone call. To enable this, Medio has teamed with Ingenio to offer pay-per-call ads on the Medio network.

Tawakol expects some brand advertising to take place on the Medio network, such as film advertisers looking to reach searchers that are trying to find a film star’s wallpaper. He also said that Medio is working with large CPG companies to test some ad formats, but declined to name those companies.

Targeting of MobileNow ads will be influenced by search behavior, click-through history, user demographics, geography and behavioral trending analysis. Tawakol, who’s past role as SVP of marketing at Revenue Science makes him no stranger to the concept, says what can be accomplished in this context is not true behavioral targeting, since there is no consistency in cookie-handling across mobile carriers.

But these early techniques can approach the same result, since search queries can provide a wealth of targeting data, and as more clusters of users and trends are identified, the predictive capabilities of the platform will further improve. The platform is built with the RelevanceServer contextual ad technology, which was acquired when Medio bought WebRelevance last year.

One of Medio’s strengths as a mobile search platform is that it is not an attempt to fit Web search into a mobile format. That advantage may soon be lost, if Yahoo is successful in promoting its OneSearch product. Yahoo launched OneSearch in January, as part of an upgrade to its Yahoo Go for Mobile application.

While Go requires a user download or pre-load by mobile device manufacturers, as of today, OneSearch will be available to all mobile Web users at m.yahoo.com.

Yahoo introduced a beta test of mobile search ads in October, one month after Google began trialing mobile ads in the U.S. and Europe. It introduced the Go client for mobile devices in January 2006.
Last month, Yahoo began offering mobile display ads in 19 countries.

“With OneSearch for Yahoo Go or mobile Web, both underscore our focus,” Lee Ott, Yahoo’s director of mobile Web products, told ClickZ. “We intend to be number one in mobile search, and in mobile search monetization.”

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