Mobile: Advertising’s Orphan

Mobile is a lot like Harry Potter: clearly brilliant, something of an orphan and unsure what it will be when it grows up — and whether it can harness its power.
Mobile is on the tips of everyone’s tongues, but it’s still not ready for primetime, failing in some basic areas. Like most new media channels, mobile is caught between those who want to treat it as a distinct medium and those claiming it must be integrated as quickly as possible into traditional media and marketing buckets. Because of these divergent views, just where mobile belongs and whether it indeed is the chosen one or just another wizard is one of the major questions hovering over the mobile ad ecosystem.
“Never before has there been a channel built for cross media opportunities,” said Michael Zimbalist vp research & development operations, The New York Times Company. “It should always be complementary, part of the connective tissue. I think we get in trouble the more we silo mobile. I hope the industry doesn’t go that way. That doesn’t take into account how people live their lives.”
In Zimbalist’s view, consumers increasingly jump from screen to screen, interacting with the same content and seeking consistent experiences. And more often than not, they use mobile devices in conjunction with traditional media outlets like TV.
Which warrants brands thinking about mobile in the same way. “I’d be surprised to hear many brands that have mobile-only customer budgets.”
Yet Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of the mobile marketing firm Skyrockit, takes the opposite view. He sees a wave of mobile platform companies and app developers pitching brands on sexy new mobile ad programs without providing much in the way of strategy.
“We’ve got a lot of engines and not enough oil,” he said. “You need more than just a mobile guy. It’s a lot like social media, where many specialty agencies emerged.”
It’s traditional agencies that have been caught flatfooted by mobile and may be hindering its growth, said many industry executives. They’re not sure where to house it or how they can profit from it. And some still have yet to develop real mobile skills. This is an issue on the top of the agenda next week when the Interactive Advertising Bureau convenes a mobile conference.
“Many agencies don’t know how to do it and aren’t organized around it,” said Anna Bager, gm, IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence.
Like Zimbalist, Bager believes that mobile must be treated as integral to all ad campaigns — not as some complicated, techy segment which pulls in small test budgets.
That’s still where mobile often finds itself, even as analysts predict hyper-spending growth over the next few years.
“As with every new platform, consumers are way out in front of agencies and brands,” said Cameron Clayton, evp, digital product for The Weather Channel. “Agencies are asking, ‘how do we make money on this?’ Unfortunately, it’s harder to buy. That leads to lower margins. And the creative departments often say, ‘That’s not super sexy.’”
Right now, mobile is dealing with a trifecta of fundamental problems: the creative stinks, buying is a headache and measurement is all over the place.
“Just as in the early days of the Web, when some agencies didn’t want to do it, startups have started coming out of the woodwork,” said Clayton, noting a well-received recent campaign produced by the mobile vendor Medialets for HBO’s True Blood.
But beyond territorial and creative issues, mobile is still plagued by logistical barriers. “It’s still very hard to measure,” observed Bager.
Device fragmentation remains a challenge as well. With the proliferation of Android devices, “you have to build 12 different resizes sometimes,” said Clayton. On the other end of the spectrum, running ads with Apple is more straightforward, but less flexible.
However, Vlassopulos believes that some marketers use such complaints as a cop out. His team tries to simplify mobile for many nervous brand by boiling it down to basics. “You need to conduct regular business on mobile devices,” he said. “And any marketing effort needs mobile elements.”
The good news is, despite the many obstacles facing the nascent industry, everybody seems to get those two basic points. An soon-to-be-released IAB study found that most brands planned to increase mobile spending over the next year. “Overwhelmingly, people want to solve these problems,” said Bager.

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