Mobile Ads: Appropriate Formats

Yahoo today said it would begin testing graphical ads on its mobile platform, a mere month after it began doing the same with text ads on its wireless search results.

Running graphical banners in a mobile content environment may at first glance seem the worst sort of retro-fitting — akin to the often-maligned and too-often-practiced approach of running :30 pre-roll spots against minute-long video content. I’m not so sure it’s as awful as that.

With MySpace going live in Japan and YouTube reportedly closing in on a mobile TV deal, plus Google and Yahoo both investing heavily in mobile search, many bets lay on the wireless channel. The models are far from certain. It may turn out providing phone-based access to your site and services is best treated as a brand extension — more a loyalty play than a monetization channel. In the other direction, several players already offer big ad networks catering largely to ringtone and wallpaper vendors. There are all kinds of problems with this from a business ethics and ad quality point of view, but that’s another topic for another blog post.

I’d put my mobile money, if I had some, on light-touch graphical sponsorships for text-based content and richer content on handsets – an approach that could use very tiny, innocuous banners. This is not going to be a high volume market for a long time, in the U.S. anyway, so there’s little risk for content providers to think of it as primarily a sponsorship vehicle in the near term.

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