Mobile Marketing: Still Hit and Miss

During his keynote presentation at the DIGIDAY: MOBILE APPS conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, Avi Zimak, the advertising director for tablet media at Hearst Magazines, elicited more than a few chuckles when he showed a 1996 “Today Show” clip of hosts Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric asking an off-camera crewmember what the Internet was.

Talk to conference panel members and attendees, and one may get to the conclusion that professionals ranging from advertising executives to applications developers are no less clueless when it comes to taking advantage of the rapid growth of mobile communications almost one year into the iPad era.

“We are living in the Wild Wild West of technology again with the tablet,” said Zimak, who showed off tablet-ready interactive versions of Hearst publications such as Esquire and O, The Oprah Magazine. “The trajectory of where this space is going is nothing like we’ve ever seen.”

There’s certainly a translation problem. Mobile right now is taking it cues from the desktop Internet, understandably. Yet this might sell its short if it’s viewed as just another screen for banners, buttons and text links. Of course, advertising has a long history of grafting old formats onto new media — think back to the first TV spots that were just actors reading radio ads.

“Everyone tried to take what video ads were out there and put it on a Web page, and that didn’t work,” said Clark Hamon, senior manager of business development at Redwood City, Calif.-based video advertising network YuMe. “You can’t just take online ads and think that it will translate to mobile.

“The big difference is the geolocality and being able to interact and carry on a conversation with the consumer,” added Tim Street, vice president of mobile video at Toronto-based mobile video service provider mDialog. “Chances are, right now, you don’t have your TV or desktop with you, but you do have your mobile device.”

Such lessons are key as advertisers, marketers and companies look to take advantage of the most rapid adoption of a consumer electronics device – the tablet computer – in history. While Apple sold about 3.5 million iPhones in the U.S. within the first nine months of its 2007 launch, the company sold 15 million iPads within nine months of its April 2010 debut. Meanwhile, Zimak pointed to statistics showing that Apple will have sold 120 million iPads by 2012, though he thought the number would be closer to 150 million.

With such massive growth projected, many companies and advertisers mistakenly take the “if you build it, they will come” approach when it comes to smartphone applications.

“Too many brands are saying, if I put an app out and I’m going to get a million downloads,” said Theo Fanning, president and creative director of San Francisco-based advertising firm Traction and a panelist at the DIGIDAY: MOBILE conference earlier Thursday. “It’s so much more complicated than that.”

“The biggest thing is educating clients on how the app stores work, and getting the word ‘launch’ out of their vocabulary,” said Chris Hinkle, technology creative director at Interpublic Group’s HUGE division, noting the need for more focus on the entire life of the app.

To that end, innovative companies are beginning to figure out how to best represent a brand to smartphone users by eschewing gimmicky applications that are used temporarily or merely provide a short-term distraction and producing applications that serve a day-to-day purpose by taking advantage of the anywhere-anytime presence of the mobile device.

Such products ranged from applications that automatically remind diabetes patients to take their insulin shots to applications that stream mobile versions of animated shows and games for devotees of Adult Swim.

In fact, the prospect of a growing inventory of useful mobile applications made some panel members get downright esoteric.

“Einstein said the fourth dimension is time,” said Matt Herrmann, chief strategy officer of marketing company McCann-Erickson West. “The fourth dimension in advertising is location.”

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