Commentary

Mobile Marketers Bypassing Agencies

MoneyPhone

A new mobile advertising study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau presented at its "Mobile Marketplace" conference Monday had few topline surprises, but offered some interesting insights -- especially those relating to agencies.

The survey of CMOs and other top marketing executives at 300 U.S. companies (not named) of different sizes and across major industry categories confirmed that mobile budgets are still modest but growing. More than half (55%) are under $50,000 this year, but in the next two years nearly three quarters (72%) of executives expect to increase spending, with 35% planning to boost dollars allocated to mobile by more than 50%.

Even so, the $1 million budgets committed to Apple last year for the iAd launch look far and few between. Only 7% of marketers surveyed said they were currently spending more than $300,000 a year. So the amount of ad dollars earmarked for mobile advertising is sobering in contrast to the breathless hype that often surrounds the medium.

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Even by 2014, U.S. mobile advertising is only expected to reach $2.5 billion, according to an eMarketer forecast. That's hardly chump change -- but still only a fraction of the $26 billion in total U.S. online advertising last year, and a little more than Facebook alone is expected to take in for U.S. advertising this year.

Given what mobile spending there is today, less than half (47%) the companies in the survey are turning to media buying agencies for help. Entertainment and media businesses were the most likely to handle buys in-house because of their likely greater experience with mobile advertising.

"More generally it could be that the use of media buying agencies is still modest in mobile because many of the agencies involved are small and specialist, which means reduced visibility particularly to those companies that are relatively new to mobile," noted the IAB study (undertaken by Ovum Consulting). That may be, but another trend is larger agencies and holding companies getting more directly involved in mobile advertising. In any event, bigger buys should eventually lead to wider reliance on outside help.

Among companies that have used media agencies, the experience has been mostly positive. More than half (54%) said they were reasonably satisfied with the assistance agencies provided in reaching campaign goals, and 24% were completely satisfied.

Similarly, most marketers across verticals including travel, auto, financial services, and retail said they didn't use creative agencies for campaigns. But when they did, 85% said they were either reasonably or completely satisfied.

So clients were happy with the results -- despite a lack of creative opportunities being cited as one of the drawbacks of mobile. "The high levels of satisfaction recorded by those that work with creative agencies on mobile advertising strongly suggest these partners can help address such concerns," concluded the report. But campaigns below a certain size are less likely to involve hiring a creative shop to produce engaging ads, so it's partly a matter of getting what you pay for.

In one telling finding, marketing execs had a hard time coming up with examples when asked to mention specific mobile campaigns they admired. They referred to things like texting to make a donation, use of mobile location targeting, video, and favorable responses to campaigns on specific devices like the iPhone or BlackBerry. (BlackBerry?) Those are really more tactics than anything else.

In mobile's defense, the survey participants might be hard-pressed to come up with a specific online campaign as well because TV still dominates when it comes to high-impact brand advertising. Think Super Bowl ads. But the next time the IAB runs a similar survey, it would be interesting to see if compelling mobile ads come more easily to mind.

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