“2010 is the year of mobile.” It’s hard to say that without at least a smirk.
Everyone in advertising and media has been hearing that statement for nearly three years running. And for the last two, it’s been followed up with a less than reassuring “and this time, we mean it.”
Why wasn’t 2009 (or 2008 or 2007) really the year of mobile? After all, there are some impressive numbers to quote.
There are 270 million mobile subscribers in the U.S. Ninety-one percent of them keep their phone within three feet of themselves 24 hours a day, 365 days per week. Thirty-three percent would rather lose their wallet than their phone. And, most tantalizing, there are 29.1 million smartphone users waiting to be engaged with our marketing. Surely, this is a medium that is ready to explode with an influx of ad dollars.
But no, it isn’t. Although the graph lines are going up, mobile advertising is still lagging behind the robust predictions of years past. Let’s look at the reasons why.
It’s Too Complex
There are too many platforms, too many browsers, and too many markup languages to make mobile marketing easily scalable. From an advertiser’s point of view, this is a production nightmare.
It starts with the operating systems; we have RIM, Microsoft, Apple, Palm, Symbian, Danger, and the new darling, Android. Next, factor in the browsers; there’s Safari, Opera, Fennec, the native OS browsers for RIM, Android, Windows, and then another 15 or so lesser known ones. Add to that the various markup languages, the myriad of devices, and the variety of specifications for each — it’s enough to make a mobile developer weep.
Now, imagine yourself as the account lead that has to sell this all to a direct response client whose main concern is minimizing non-working media costs. Not an easy task.
The Planning Tools Are Lacking
Once we’re past the complexity issues, planning mobile media is the next hurdle. Here, data is king. Too often, a lack of proper measurements have eliminated otherwise promising channels from marketing mixes.
The tools at our disposal are rudimentary at best. Planning tools from Millennial Media, Nielsen, and comScore are available, but these are still the early days for them. New tools must be sold to clients before they are accepted in the planning process. These aren’t standard fare at agencies, nor do they provide the robustness of their online or analog counterparts.
The Scale Isn’t Quite There
Sixty-eight percent of mobile subscribers never visit the Internet on their mobile device. As digital marketers, our best option to connect with this majority of the mobile market is SMS (define) — not exactly the most engaging format. This gets alarming when compounded with the fact that 35 percent of mobile users never text either.
It’s a Challenging Ad Platform
One of the key selling points mobile sales reps tout is the lack of clutter in the mobile space. One page, one ad — delivering tremendous click-through and recall. Unfortunately, advertising decisions are often influenced by shiny objects. If a Flash banner ad is a hard sell compared to a TV spot, how is a mobile ad going to compete?
I’ve yet to meet a creative director who gets truly excited about mobile display advertising. This affects the ability to sell it, resulting in the mobile budget being cut.
The Infrastructure is Lacking
Due to its newness, some of the basic components that media buyers rely on to track their programs are non-existent. It takes an excessive amount of manpower and time, relative to its value, to execute. Basic campaign results need to be collected from a wide range of sources from ad servers, ad networks, portals, niche sites, and vendors.
The lack of standardization across our partners limits the depth of the reporting. Limited integration of third-party ad-serving often means that if it hasn’t been seen with our own eyes, it’s impossible to even verify that a campaign ran.
Mobile devices are ubiquitous and ever evolving. All the above problems are actively being addressed.
If mobile is employed smartly, it can be a real performer on a media plan. Nothing else allows marketers to close the loop between consumer action and out-of-home advertising, provide location-based messaging, or engagement on the go. And if a consumer invites your brand into their life via a branded app, that’s worth all the hassles and more.
There’s no question that mobile marketing will play an increasingly important role in the overall marketing mix. Video consumption, searching in transit, and social networking will all become staples of the mobile experience. Advertisers will continue to follow.
If ever there was a cutting-edge medium bursting with potential for a forward thinking brand to play in, mobile is it. And the rules haven’t yet been written. I’m looking forward to expanding the space.
Maybe 2010 will be the year of mobile after all.
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