The Mobile Marketing Schism

I set out to write about mobile advertising’s role in an agency media plan and learned this topic isn’t nearly as straightforward as I’d thought. My agency hasn’t yet done any mobile advertising, and my inexperience only helped highlight the confusion swirling around mobile. Though I collected input from various sources, I heard conflicting messages and inconsistent information, so I figure either I’m really thick-headed or (more likely) others out there with even less experience and knowledge are confused, too.

Can Mobile Advertising Exist Without Mobile Marketing?

The answer depends on whom you speak with. For those in the mobile business, there’s a very clear distinction between the two camps. It goes something like this: Mobile advertising is purchasing either display ad space on a WAP (define) site or ad-supported content or services. Mobile marketing involves, according to Brian Hecht, founder and chairman of mobile services company Kikucall, “Creating an environment using mobile tools with an intended marketing goal, like building a database, generating a mobile coupon, etc.” (My ClickZ colleague Laura Marriott also recently attempted to define mobile marketing.)

After absorbing multiple definitions, I’m apt to follow Ad Infuse‘s Chris Arens’: “Mobile advertising is a subset of mobile marketing.” After all, isn’t all advertising a part of the greater marketing strategy?

The Mobile Ad Industry’s Perception of Agencies

The mobile ad industry consists of technology providers, ad networks, publishers, mobile agencies, mobile device manufacturers, and, of course, the carriers. All view mobile’s high media profile as a good thing, as it generates higher interest, particularly from advertisers and agencies. Whether the agency gets mobile or not is a matter of differing opinions, again depending upon whom you speak with.

Jeff Janer, CMO of Third Screen Media, said agency-per-campaign spends were so low in 2006 ($25,000 to $30,000), he could tell these were discretionary budgets, probably appropriated from interactive budgets. This year, he’s already seeing four-fold mobile budgets. Still, most expect 2007 will be a year of continued mobile testing, not heavy ad buys.

Most agencies have perhaps one mobile savvy person. Responsibility for all things mobile falls to this person. This can affect the speed of mobile campaign implementation. This person not only has to address the media buy but also the campaign’s technical aspects — then educate his coworkers. Yahoo, with its recently launched mobile ad platform, hopes to eliminate some of the complexities and technical issues to make mobile ad buying easier.

With mobile’s momentum, knowledge is in demand. Several mobile companies have planned or are planning “Mobile 101” road shows to help educate the agency sector. Agencies, they say, still need to understand mobile basics: technologies, ad types and sizes, measurement standards, cost models, what constitutes good creative, how to scale a campaign, lead times, personalization, mobile limitations, and mobile strategies. That’s to say nothing of screen size. “The window of opportunity to grab the user’s attention [with mobile advertising] is probably less than with some other media,” remarked Leslie Bernhard, CEO of Adstar, a company testing mobile classified advertising.

Mobile media planning is further complicated by the fact agency media buyers are bombarded with all types of mobile offerings and must sort through the unfamiliar territory. Some mobile players believe traditional media buyers are more inclined to understand mobile buys. Others told me interactive buyers are quicker on the uptake. Most agree the media buyer plays a key role in mobile, with the buyer often having to lead the mobile strategy.

There are different levels of optimism and reality checks in mobile. The truly optimistic believe it’s only a matter of education and time before mobile is successful; others say technical and inventory limitations, as well as education, will check growth. While I fall into the optimistic camp, I believe the mobile advertising industry must work on reducing the confusion and improving message before it can really advance and reach the acceptance level it desires.

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