Q&A With Starcom USA Mobile Director Kevin Lilly

Kevin Lilly

Kevin Lilly was recently named mobile director at Starcom USA, responsible for leading the agency's activities in mobile media activation and investment. Prior to joining Starcom, Lilly was a managing director at Mindshare, where he handled accounts including BP and Motorola and eventually took on digital oversight of brands such as Kimberly Clark, American Family Insurance, Abbott and Clearwire. Previously, Lilly was brought on as an associate media director in 2003 at OMD on the McDonald's account.

What led you to take the Starcom job?

Lilly: For me, I'll have much more focus on mobile than in the past. At Starcom, we're big believers in the role mobile is going to play in media. Just watching and understanding the shift into the mobile space -- seeing how consumer behavior changes and what marketers are doing in response -- has been really exciting to me. I'm a tech enthusiast and I read a lot of mobile blogs and post comments on mobile blogs. So having spent a lot of time over the last few years focusing on mobile, it's nice to be able to formalize that interest in a role that helps brands connect with it.

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How big is Starcom's mobile group?

Lilly: At any given time there's a dozen people working on mobile campaigns and I can tap into that pool and help drive the mobile position. It's really a factor of what a brand is doing at any given moment. Within Starcom, we would handle strategy and media activation. On the creative side, we'll work with the creative agency assigned to that client.

How do clients look at mobile as part of the media mix?

Lilly: Clients are definitely becoming more engaged in mobile. Some are more advanced than others who are just testing and getting into it. As consumers adopt the technology and change their behavior or usage, that's typically what draws clients into it. The retail group is particularly interested in mobile and active in the space.

A lot of what we're seeing is a huge opportunity to connect with consumers on a personal level and putting messages in front of them that take advantage of the real-time nature of mobile. With location-based services, we can take them from a digital experience on the mobile phone to an analog experience in a store.

The interaction you see people having with apps is very specific to a local experience -- doing a search within an app that delivers recommendations for nearby restaurants, for instance. But instead of the old idea of walking by a coffee shop and getting a coupon on your phone, it's much more about signaling my intent to look for certain types of restaurants or stores, and marrying up location within the context of what you're doing.

There's a wide open road ahead for a number of players that come into this [location-based] space. What we're seeing from early adopters on services like Foursquare will be helpful for us to understand what the opportunities are.

Where does the agency come into that?

Lilly: In terms of helping clients plan messaging around that and helping clients identify opportunities, for us it starts with the consumer. What's the type of usage? Is it something they're engaging with? We've done a lot of research around how open consumers are to this type of advertising on the phone. It also has to fit into a broader communication plan. You're not just writing a mobile plan, but looking at how it will help with other channels. All that groundwork has to be laid before looking at the media place that might handle that messaging.

Will traditional display advertising play a lesser role in mobile?

Lilly: Banners and traditional display will definitely have a role to play in mobile marketing. The two biggest pieces of news in the past few months have been related to Apple and Google in mobile advertising. So to have two dominant players being part of display and search marketing speaks volumes about how big an opportunity this will be in the future.

At any given moment, an advertiser might have a need to drive awareness and engagement with a brand but not driving a final transaction, so display remains a great way to build brand awareness. Display in mobile has also evolved beyond just clicking on a static banner to become much closer to the rich media ads you see online.

What's your take on the iAd in that regard?

Lilly: So the iAd would be an example of that. It's a great experience, though it is limited to one platform and for now ads are just in applications. As a whole, marketers have to look at all platforms out there. But without a doubt, [iAd] will sit on many advertising plans as part of an overall mobile solution. It's definitely something scalable and provides a good consumer experience, and I'm pretty positive about what I've seen.

Are any Starcom clients running iAd campaigns yet?

Lilly: No.

Are things like device and software fragmentation and a lack of ad standards still big hurdles for mobile advertising?

Lilly: What we have to take into account is that having gone through the entire evolution of Internet advertising, this looks very similar to that. There was a time we didn't have standard banner sizes on the Internet and there wasn't a consistent measurement approach, and we're seeing a lot of that in mobile now. So it does make it challenging for marketers to build campaigns with inconsistencies around ad sizes and formats and technologies that different sites can enable. But I don't think that's a long-term detractor from opportunities emerging in the mobile space.

The excitement around apps has tended to overshadow the mobile Web. Do you see both playing big roles on mobile devices?

Lilly: The mobile Web, without a doubt, will continue to grow in sophistication. As broadband became a pervasive technology for accessing the Internet, that has enabled everything we do online now, and I think you could draw very similar parallels with the proliferation of 3G and 4G wireless networks as it relates to data speeds. That's going to drive a lot more usage. YouTube recently rebuilt its mobile Web site in HTML5 and that speaks to the value people at Google are placing on the mobile Web.

But apps have an entrenched role now, so I see the two co-existing in the near term. For clients, a lot of that comes down to distribution. With apps, you're trying to drive someone to download an app. At the moment, the overall user experience of an app may be very compelling. With the mobile Web, you have a potentially bigger audience to reach. So there's benefits to both.

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