OMMA Global: Mobile, Mobile Everywhere

At this week’s OMMA Global event in New York for Advertising Week, talk of mobile is almost sickeningly pervasive. No joke. One of my old and trusted contacts in the mobile field actually praised a panel he saw yesterday because no one mentioned the word mobile. At last. Another friend said that mobile is the new social. Of course it didn’t help matters that word got around fast that Facebook had started testing its own mobile ad network, reportedly leveraging its user data to target ads in third-party apps and mobile sites. Combine two of the hottest topics in digital media -- Facebook and mobile -- and you have a topic that comes up in every session across every one of our panel verticals. 
 
To wit, the keynote case study that opened OMMA Display crafted an involved picture of how MetLife and Merkle designed an audience segmentation, targeting and attribution platform that reflected the insurer’s specific business case. The model for identifying audience segments, measuring results and attributing credit to key elements was a carefully wrought thing of beauty. 
 
But even MetLife VP of ecommerce Amir Weiss had to admit that when it came to mobile, this all changed. The problem is that a great many people he wants to target are using devices to explore life insurance. The infrastructure of tracking, and audience segmentation and tracking -- let alone privacy protection -- just isn’t there yet. That became the tone that seemed to accompany the mobile meme. "What happens with this on mobile platforms?" was the common question. There was an expectation of continuity, even if that expectation often was frustrated by the heightened complexity of the emerging marketing and media platform. 
 
This was a fascinating pattern throughout the panels I either hosted or watched that were outside our own great OMMA Mobile program. The panel of demand-side platform providers all engaged the unique challenges of mobile. All of the technologies that have been built for the last few years to make online ad targeting so efficient and automated seem to grind to a halt when they hit the mobile wall. Agreeing with MetLife’s Weiss, these executives from Xaxis, Adnetic and others all noted how tough it will be to track the online audience as they move to devices. Mobile is the place where everyone seems to be taking privacy especially seriously. The scrutiny that Apple and Google endured over mobile data leakage did not go unnoticed. 
 
The mobile meme came up again even on a main stage panel of agencies and brand marketers answering the question “What is a Brand?” One of the themes that emerged was the need for brands now to reinvent themselves, stay fresh, and be entertaining to users. Macy’s Jennifer Kasper says that few people really anticipated or appreciated how much Amazon had affected the way people shop. That the online competitor is now in everyone’s pocket only amplifies an effect that has been there all along. In order to combat "showrooming," retailers are following Macy’s lead of cultivating unique experiences and private brands that are not easily replicated elsewhere.  
 
And it was perhaps inevitable that our panel on Facebook display ad inventory ultimately would lead into a discussion of mobile advertising. Horizon Media’s Taylor Valentine complained that the mobile ads he has seen in Facebook feeds have not been relevant. Matt Rosenberg of Taykey said that he recently got an ad for Kansas City sport attire and accessories. “I have never even been to Kansas City,” he said. 
 
The consensus seemed to be that while targeting surely will improve, Facebook is chasing investor reaction and may well lose sight of user experience. Valentine said the reported Facebook mobile ad network may help insulate the company from people getting annoyed or creeped out by having ads served into their actual Facebook experience. Moreover, targeting ads simply based on likes here and there will not produce a good result. And now a large number of third parties will have to figure out how to make best use of Facebook data for targeting without putting users off. Kenshoo’s Aaron Goldman admits that Facebook data is not like search, where intent is explicit. It takes greater time and sophistication to find the data that renders real relevance to a user’s needs. 
 
Valentine said that a Facebook-driven ad network can benefit publishers in much the way Facebook Connect helped third parties. Connect drove large amounts of traffic to many publishers. A mobile ad network can now benefit publishers by helping them monetize their hard-to-monetize inventory. 
 
The migration to mobile devices among users has been so pronounced and accelerated this year that it is now hard to find any digital media conversation that does not touch upon the topic. That is not always a positive. As mobile platforms are more rigorously compared to the sophistication of online targeting and tracking, for instance, the disconnect is discouraging. 
 
But in most aspects, the new status of mobile in the media mix -- if not always in the budget -- highlights a theme we have been advancing in these columns for years. Mobile is indeed a discrete platform with specialized capabilities and downsides. But it is also on some level digital marketing in extremis. Familiar issues become sharper here. The problem of irrelevant advertising is that much more noticeable and off-putting on devices. The need to protect privacy is just that much more critical and sensitive than it is on the desktop. The personalization that so many publishers sought in vain for so long online is now critical to mobile experiences, and its benefits perhaps more clear. Making ads that are creatively more engaging is imperative on a small screen, where the price of being an irritant is much higher than a Web where many missteps are just invisible. 
 
The preoccupation with mobile is partly deserved because this platform is a lot like the Web in some key respects…only more so. 
 
Tags: mobile
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