Parsing the 95%: Despite Growth, Mobile Needs To Show Its Incremental Value

Stocks-UpNo matter how you cut or parse it, last week’s IAB numbers around mobile are good news for the industry. Mobile platforms were significant drivers of growth within the 14% expansion in online advertising the IAB cited for the first half of 2012 over the same period in 2010. Mobile accounted for 7% of the take, up from 4% in the first half of the previous year, to $1.2 billion. Not much to dislike there.

Analysts, however, took the numbers in several directions. Mobile has become a major concern for investors contemplating the future of Google and Facebook in particular. Since Facebook’s IPO, investor scrutiny on the entire sector has intensified as the money men wonder whether the incumbent Web goliaths will pivot well into devices. Mobile endemics like Millennial, inmobi and Velti are getting a fair amount of attention from the financial sectors of late.

A Reuters report asks a range of market and industry analysts about whether the Web media brands are able to adjust to mobile platform needs as adroitly as the incumbents. Gartner analyst Andrew Frank is quoted as saying: “Advertisers want to be able to reach the broadest population they can and in the mobile world where the platforms are fragmented, this gives an opening to the providers who are truly platform neutral.” He adds that the lack of maturity in metrics especially gives mobile-only companies an opportunity to provide what Google and Facebook do not yet. The report cites that both Millennial and Velti have seen their share soar since earlier this year, up 76% and 59% respectively.

There is a lot of hand-wringing over that usage/spend disconnect on mobile and how microscopic the marketing spend is relative to consumers’ time spent. But analysts are also sharpening their own critique of this simple equation. GigaOm’s John du Pre Gauntt, for instance, tells Ecommerce Times that in order to move serious money to mobile the platform has to make a good argument against the reigning cash cow of the Web, search. “If mobile is going to overtake search, it’s got to prove to brands that it’s going to save them money for the same pop they are paying right now, or mobile is going to earn them money they don’t have yet.”

That argument about what incremental gain mobile represents to marketers is extended by Pivotal’s Brian Wieser in an investor note over the weekend. Wieser parses the IAB numbers and concludes that when it comes to that $1.2 billion in first half mobile spend, 76% of it likely was search spending, almost all going to Google. “We can infer that $350 million was generated by mobile advertising excluding mobile search during the first half of 2012,” he writes. “This amount was more than two times the prior-year level, and equates to nearly 10% of total PC-based Web display advertising. But this level is relatively modest, especially considering that much of the total is likely driven by a self-contained mobile ecosystem among marketers whose businesses are contained to mobile environments (such as app developers).”

Wieser warns that most brands really are just “guessing” about the real scale of mobile usage and must keep in mind that only half of consumers even own smartphones. Meanwhile, virtually anyone accessing the Internet in the U.S. is using a standard Web browser at some point during most days. That is bound to change, but for the time being, Wieser says brands have to ask, “What they can do with mobile that is incremental to existing activities on the conventional Web.” They still are struggling to answer the big question of what mobile adds to what they already achieve from the proven potency of a TV+Web combination. Any mobile marketing solutions provider, of course, has a plethora of answers to that questions. But Wieser argues that marketers who even are high on mobile have hurdles to investment. Measurement is immature, at best. And operationally brands still don’t feel they can deploy creative easily enough across a fragmented landscape.

Ultimately, Wieser concedes, the infrastructure of mobile and its ROI will prove out convincingly for marketers and make the case that it incrementally adds to Web investment. But the reality, he argues, is that the money will start catching up with the usage. “Web publishers whose content is primarily accessed via the Web have not seen a direct (or major) shift of spending away from the PC and toward mobile devices: most large brands aren't operationally capable of allocating substantial sums to mobile advertising today. But at some point they will be able to, and by that time, the aspirations of marketers which have driven much mobile advertising revenue to date will begin to transform into much more pragmatic considerations, where budget allocations are often assigned on the basis of simple rules of thumb.”  

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1 comment about "Parsing the 95%: Despite Growth, Mobile Needs To Show Its Incremental Value".
  1. James Lamberti from AdTruth, a part of Experian , October 16, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.
    An interesting piece, Steve. Sure, $1.2 billion is a big number and the year-over-year growth is strong; but 7% is still pretty paltry. Weiser’s point about the hurdles that measurement and creative deployment present is well taken. In the current mobile ecosystem, audience recognition – which is the first and fundamental link in the value chain – doesn't allow marketers to reach their customers with certainty or accurately measure the success of their campaigns. Weiser is correct that eventually spend and budget allocations will catch up with usage trends – but to get there, the industry needs to think hard and critically about the special requirements of mobile. That means solving the recognition challenge, organizing globally, and efficiently creating/deploying ad content that takes advantage of the unique capabilities of the mobile channel. Our whitepaper on Improving the Economics of Mobile Marketing tackles these issues. I encourage you – and your readers – to check it out. http://blog.adtruth.com/a-glimpse-of-a-better-digital-advertising-future-bluekai-pivots-into-mobile/