WAA Releases First Batch of Mobile Ad Standards

The largest wireless advertising group on Monday took tentative steps toward addressing problems of standardization and definitions in mobile media — while the same issues continue to vex players in the larger Web media space.

In one move to standardize creative elements across wireless media, the New York-based WAA — an industry consortium of publishers, agencies, ad servers, device manufacturers and technology partners — released specifications for two types of SMS messaging over GSM networks.

A “Full Message” ad consists of the entire 160-long character string available in an SMS text message. A smaller “Sponsorship” ad is 34 characters, which are two lines of text on most phones, and would typically be used for preceding other content in an SMS.

The WAA also handed down voluntary definitions for many of the terms used in mobile media transactions. But perhaps the most important definition offered by the group was that of an impression — exact specifications of which thus far have eluded the more developed Web advertising industry.

The WAA defines an impression as “the sending of an advertising message to a user/device as recorded by the server software” — a stance similar to that espoused by Web players like DoubleClick and several of the largest interactive media buyers.

While the WAA’s set of standards are voluntary, the group is supported by many of the largest players in mobile media and technology. And spokespeople say the effort aims to put an end to obstacles to the fledgling industry’s growth.

The move comes as Web media — under the nominal jurisdiction of the WAA’s former parent, the Interactive Advertising Bureau — is coping with admitted problems of its own, pertaining to a lack of industry-wide definitions of accounting.

For one thing, online ad servers, publishers and agencies often disagree on what, exactly, constitutes an impression. And since the vast majority of Web media contacts are based upon the number of impressions served, differences in that definition can produce wildly varying results.

Such shortcomings, say industry insiders, pose a serious threat to Web advertising’s continued growth — especially now that it’s suffering from a pullback in advertising spending due to macroeconomic conditions.

“It is critical that everyone in the industry rally around a common language that describes the delivery and measurement of ads,” said Don Albert, who is vice chairman of the WAA and senior vice president of sales and marketing at wireless technology player fusionOne.

Of course, the WAA’s work is still far from finished. The group still has to face several issues specific to mobile media, such as creative standards for the multitude of devices and protocols — though spokespeople for the group say it hopes to have more standards in coming months.

In the meantime, the WAA said it believes it’s on-track with where the mobile advertising industry is currently.

“Our ability to institute standards and guidelines is on pace with the rapidly evolving wireless industry,” said WAA chairman Robert O’Hare, who is Motorola’s director of mobile commerce. “We are very pleased at the momentum we have.”

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