Mobile Agencies Look Beyond Apps as Market Evolves

Agencies say branded apps aren’t the be-all, end-all for mobile marketing. Despite the hype surrounding the application space thanks to app-centric devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices, mobile agencies suggest new technologies like HTML5 and Apple’s iAd product could help turn marketers’ attention away from the crowded branded app space.

At OMMA’s mobile event in New York City yesterday, agency execs discussed the evolution of the space, and offered up views on how the fledgling channel may evolve following the introduction of technologies such as HTML5 and Apple’s iAd mobile advertising product.

During a session titled “Mobile Planning in the Age of Apps, the Mobile Web and the iAd,” panelists warned advertisers not to dive into the app space, and instead placed emphasis on formulating clear mobile strategies before deciding which channels best suit that activity.

“Our initial conversations with clients always start with them getting excited about applications,” said Jared Hopfer, marketing manager at mobile agency Mobext. “As an agency we have to calm them down and talk about the types of functionality that an app would offer that other experiences wouldn’t, and weigh the relative benefits,” he added.

Courtney Renaud, who looks after Paramount Pictures’ account for mec:interaction said the agency was finding particular value in integrating brands with existing apps, rather than building from scratch. “An app isn’t going to be suitable for every movie, so we explore other possibilities such as app sponsorships and takeovers. That way you know the audience is already there, and it risks less for the client,” she said.

Many of the panelists spoke fondly of Apple’s new iAd mobile ad offering, for which agencies say Apple is asking upwards of $1 million dollars for initial buys. Patrick Collins, CEO of agency 5th Finger expressed little doubt the iAd network would provide a superior solution to ad formats currently available in mobile marketing arsenals. “I think we all know that when the iAd is launched we’ll see a lot of very interesting stuff coming through that will really excite brand marketers,” he said.

Though agreeing that Apple’s iAd product showed promise, Renaud said the effectiveness of the channel in comparison to branded applications and other in-app ad solutions was yet to be seen. “It looks like a really robust ad experience, but if we’re talking about an app versus an iAd it will come down to what is most cost efficient,” she said.

Meanwhile, with Apple attempting to corner the market for both applications and the ad offerings within them, other agency executives suggested mobile marketing efforts might well revert to a browser-based medium, with developers adopting HTML5 for mobile-focused sites that function across a range of handsets.

Apple devices do not support Flash, which has prompted developers to accelerate their uptake of the HTML5 programming standard. “HTML5 is very much on our radar. I predict the mobile browser will make a big comeback over the next year or so,” said Dan Rosen, managing director of AKQA Mobile, during a keynote address.

That sentiment was echoed by Publicis Groupe’s head of mobile, Alexandre Mars, during a session on the fragmentation of mobile platforms and the headaches the trend is causing for mobile agencies. “Mobile growth is coming from the mobile Web, and that’s what our clients need to think most about,” he said.

Likewise Paul Palmieri, CEO of mobile ad network Millennial Media, said he too believed growth in mobile use was coming from within the browser. “We see a lot of ad impressions [across the Millennial network], and I think the winning platform is HTML5. It’s going to take three years or so, and there’s no doubt applications are all the rage today, but I think the browser platform will win in the end,” he said.

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