Mobile Advertising: Off-the-Shelf or Custom?

I got an e-mail earlier this week with the following headline: “Mobile advertising just got easier!” The announcement was, of course, from my dear friends at MSN informing me of the new opportunity to buy mobile WAP (define) banners across their mobile WAP pages. These pages help connect consumers to MSN content like Windows Messenger, MSNBC, and Hotmail. The announcement states that almost 10 million mobile consumers access MSN WAP pages on a monthly basis. It also clearly points out that the opportunity for media buyers is to extend reach and introduce clients to mobile via an optimization of mobile WAP impressions.

In my grumpy Monday-morning, pre-caffeine state, I mumbled “I wish!” rather loudly and to no one in particular.

It’s not that I don’t think highly of MSN or applaud its move into the space. It’s big news when a reputable traditional and digital media content owner translates offerings into mobile, let alone works toward making it a profitable revenue stream. Rather, I’m naturally skeptical of any e-mail subject header that indicates my job will be made “easier.” This is quite a claim for a Monday morning late in the fourth quarter. The term “easy” makes me think of the big red easy button made popular by :30 and :60 commercials; the mobile ecosystem is far from easy-button status when it comes to tactical mobile program executions.

The MSN announcement actually brings up another issue for those involved in selling clients on the mobile space. Regardless of whether you sell from the media side or from within the agency, you have a choice in mobile advertising: including off-the-shelf mobile WAP ad programs in a digital strategy plan or ideating a customizable mobile program. Frankly, neither is easy at this point in the buying process. However, both are worth revisiting as a way to highlight their differences and point out how improvements can eventually be made to get them to resemble the one-stop shop synonymous with the big red button.

Off-the-shelf mobile programs are those that can be included within an RFP (define) response. They usually come from digital media partners or specialized mobile ad networks, both of which speak to the buyer in the digital ad language of impressions and CPMs (define). These buys work well for clients who have good relationships with media vendors or known site destinations. And the MSN announcement will help extend an existing campaign’s reach and represent an optimization of media dollars because there are several types of campaigns that can be linked to the basic WAP ad banner (click-to-video, click-to-promotion, click-to-call, etc.). The challenge, though, lies in educating the client on why mobile CPMs are higher (made trickier when the digital and mobile sites on the plan are the same), why the creative messaging is best not taken exactly from the digital, and why the serving and tracking of WAP ads doesn’t happen (with the majority of publishers) from DoubleClick’s DART for Advertisers or Microsoft’s Atlas.

Custom mobile programs generally take the form of messaging or downloadable applications. These programs require a middleman, better know as a boutique mobile vendor or aggregator, and a case-by-case carrier approval. They often tie into a larger communications plan and need media support to build awareness and, ultimately, consumer participation. The planning time is longer than that needed to execute a basic WAP banner ad program. Additionally, the cost structures involve hosting and development fees that aren’t generally associated with basic WAP programs.

As with any new or emerging media, mobile marketing has its fair share of challenges. Some can be overcome with experience and marketplace education. In other cases, it isn’t that simple. Passionate sellers and eager mobile buyers are in short supply. The marketplace continues to be so liquid that just keeping up with the mergers and acquisitions can be a full-time job. To continue to move this market forward, an open and frank conversation is needed between all facets of the ecosystem. Traditional telcos, television, print, and even digital media players must learn a new language, one that isn’t hyped with the promise of being easy.

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