Has The Time For Mobile Marketing Sailed By?

Do you ever get the feeling that the ship has set sail and you may have missed the boat? When I think about the mobile advertising space, I tend to feel that way -- at least a little bit.

For years mobile was promised to be the "next big thing," but the feuding of the major carriers got in the way of any single standard being developed for advertising on the primary platforms ("on deck," so to speak) and they missed their shot. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint: you all had your chance, and you pretty much blew it. Times are passing you by, and other players are in the space faster than you could have imagined.

Due in no small part to wasted opportunities, Apple, Google and Microsoft are creating their own phones with their own standardized platforms and they're quickly taking over the mobile space. Of course, these companies potentially may do the same exact thing as their predecessors in the space: fight each other and ignore the chance to create a standardized model for mobile advertising that integrates directly into the operating system. If they could come to terms and agree on a model that worked, my opinion would change, but I don't foresee this happening. If I were a TV network or cable carrier, I'd pay close attention to this issue. Co-opetition is a good thing when you make it work.



Based on the lack of standardization and the rapid growth of competing platforms, I am going out on a limb and may be the first person to say that mobile advertising has plateau-ed -- at least in its current iteration.

Mobile advertising has too many problems hampering its growth, though the old standby of penetration is no longer one of them. More and more people are buying smartphones, so more and more people have the opportunity to see advertising on a larger, more impactful screen. More people are watching video on their phones. More people are engaging with the Web through a browser on their phones. More people are interacting with standard content formats through a mobile platform, so the mobile advertising opportunity becomes only an extension of those standard formats from a computer.

There's nothing truly special about these ad formats, as they are the same as what you get online (In a browser, you see ad banners. In video, you still get pre-roll.) In fact, most ad networks are openly enrolling your ads into their mobile placements as well without telling you, thereby blurring the world of mobile and standard Internet even more. The lines are blurry because the usage is not differentiated in the eyes of the consumer. As mobile phones become "mobile computers," the standard for computers is becoming the de facto norm.

The only unique thing that mobile has going for it now is the application space (or apps). Apps are the growth area of mobile, and that is where Apple and Google are headed with their recent acquisitions of mobile ad networks. These networks place ads inside applications and make them easier to sell by packaging them up for advertisers. These ads are moderately effective; they're really best as a reminder vehicle for a message that you already engaged with somewhere else. They're not as targeted as Web ads because they don't have the sophistication of behavioral targeting, so they are primarily contextual. The volume of inventory available on these platforms is low, and the growth rate seems steady, but not impressive.

The grandiose idea that mobile would be a stand-alone medium is starting to fade. Digital is the umbrella term that encompasses mobile among other components. Mobile is a line item that speaks to specific objectives and supports a campaign by being embedded close to the point of contact for many consumers, but it really is not a stand-alone medium and signs point to the fact that it may never be.

Of course, mobile can change its path if the industry can begin to look at the operating system itself as a marketing vehicle. This will require some cooperation among the various companies playing in the space, but I'll reserve hope that they're able to figure it out. Until then, I'll be on my boat, watching things sail on by (and no, I don't really own a boat - it's a metaphor!).

Do you agree with my observation or do you think mobile advertising will grow rapidly over the next few years? Let us know -- post your replies on the Spin Board!

9 comments about "Has The Time For Mobile Marketing Sailed By? ".
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  1. Ali Margello from HyperDrive Interactive, March 17, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    I agree and disagree. It sure feels like the coming of mobile has been slower than anyone expected, but I think the mobile carriers have less to do with it than you give them credit. Heck, they're all collecting the extra dollars generated by data plan/mobile web applications monthly fees and they didn't have to invest time, money and resources in promoting the platform. Sure, you have to wonder where mobile would be if they were all on the same page, but I still the future of the mobile device as an ad platform as up and coming.

  2. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, March 17, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    Talk about a quick voyage.

  3. June Yasol from June A. Yasol Alternatives Co., March 17, 2010 at 12:25 p.m.

    It good to note that you're thinking about it...
    What will happen to globalization when each manufacturer produce their own platform and disregard standardization- it's going to be a survival of the fittest, where everyone lose trying!

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 17, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    Larger more impactful screen? On a phone that fits in your handbag? You have to stop watching your television screen with your binoculars to your eyes backwards.

  5. James Lamberti, March 17, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.

    Totally disagree with the the idea the mobile is hitting a plateau. Having been through the PC side of digital media starting with and comScore in 1999 and recently joining InMobi, its obviously very early in the game for mobile. (For baseball fans - an analogy - its the bottom of the first with no outs...). There is massive inventory opportunity and growth, its performing for brands and content players, its a far better opportunity for brands to engage with consumers then on the PC (far better!), and provides much better targeting options ultimately.

    What I do agree with is the notion that mobile and web distinction will die. It will - and quickly. All you need to do is look at iPad and eReaders. These distinctions will cease to exist and we will simple refer to all of it - mobile, web, iPad, eReaders, etc - as digital. The huge issue for US-centric web players - the technology backbone for all of this will be mobile. Its all going into the cloud and companies that are building scalable technology in that area will dominate. According to a recent eMarketer release, there will 1.6 Billion consumers globally accessing web via mobile by 2012 and only 9% of them are in the US.

  6. Kevin Horne from Verizon, March 17, 2010 at 2:27 p.m.

    two great minds....

  7. David Lawson from 5th Finger, March 17, 2010 at 5:43 p.m.

    I agree with you 80% on the mobile advertising observation- its not there yet and will struggle to scale and be relevant. Advertising on the mobile channel does have some benefits going for it though, depending on who your customer is and how you want to tie experiences together. Opportunities may be similar in form, but the way those ads present themselves and the clutter that isn't there influences effectiveness. It gives us a look at how much more effective ads can be when they aren't “unit 12 of 27” on the page. As well, the context of the person on the receiving end of those ads is vastly different and presents opportunities if thoughtfully considered from a mobile mindset. Advances in targeting and tracking offer a lot of promise to frustrated advertisers. As a whole though, the mobile ad is more “wham-bam-thank-you” than the long-term marriage that a mobile marketing program should be.

    The title of this article is confusing with a reference to mobile marketing. There is too often a tendency to lump mobile advertising in with the current real engagement benefits/opportunities that mobile presents.

    Just as the "digital" umbrella includes mobile, mobile advertising as it exists today is a small component of mobile as a whole (maybe not in budget or PR- but in practice). AdMob and Millenial Media both freely admitted this at the NRF Innovation Conference here in SF a couple weeks ago. Its more of a tactic in an overall mobile strategy at this point and they know that the solid foundations aren't there for many top brands to deliver a meaningful end to end experience with a significant mobile ad buy. Those that do have more mature programs recognize exceptional benefit across most conversion metrics.

    Brands that are getting ahead with mobile today are taking a measured approach- not as a hobby but with the goal of winning with mobile in mind. Marketers are getting an opportunity to revisit the idea of unique customer insights making a difference. Investing in figuring out their mobile segmentation, determining inflection points, integrating mobile into their outreach and customer cultivation efforts, growing their actionable mobile databases, delivering relevant mobile experiences on mobile web and, of course, developing apps that compliment their customers lives as opposed to pushing their brand agenda. All these things are happening for the cost of a primetime TV spot- just one spot.

    Mobile marketing success means prioritizing and relevantly harnessing the power of things like location based services, m-commerce, augmented reality, mCRM, couponing, MMS, IVR, mobile web and actually connecting customers with your brand and with each other on a device that was built as communication first, computer/data second. Right now the power of mobile is more akin to sophisticated direct marketing than the digital advertising that we've known for the past 10 years. Its not for every brand, by any means, and a well plotted plan is key, but mobile marketing has barely had the champagne cracked over its bow. When it leaves the slip, mobile advertising will likely be very ready for it.

  8. Raul Keally from TripIt, March 18, 2010 at 2:16 a.m.

    I think there is plenty in store for mobile beyond what we have seen and beyond just the handset market. 4G and better video is coming. iPad and tablet PCs are launching. The platform where ads are viewed will continue to evolve and I think it's too early to write off the medium. Mobile advertising should be leveraged for it's strengths which are location based marketing/coupons and for impulse buying decisions..etc

  9. Michael Dirmeikis from SMS Text Marketing, April 1, 2010 at 5:47 p.m.

    Mobile marketing has become another delivery vehicle for ads. Not a terribly innovative idea. To be effective, served ads have to be seen...right? And to be seen, a mobile user has to be on a site where that ad has been posted. How many people spend significant amounts of time surfing the net on their phones (with that HUGE screen!)...and have the time to react to ads? People using their mobile browsers are doing so because they have a specific intent...check sports scores, Facebook...and the like. They're not likely to be diverted by ads. It's a different story when one submits a query, where the presented ads are relevant to the query. Again, how many people are using their phone to find the best restaurant.

    Apps are much more effective, responding to specific needs, and there are several, particularly in the shopping comparison category, that are frequently used. We all saw that in the rankings during the Holiday season.

    Mobile marketing programs that are based on short codes are still the most effective in the mobile world, where a business is directly marketing to people that have ASKED to receive their offers and promotions. The reach extends beyond the browser-capable handsets, and IT WORKS, and the ROI on such programs is significantly positive.

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