Commentary

A Mobile Adolescence

This year, I started describing mobile media as having entered a sort of adolescence. Just a couple of years ago mobile was the apple-cheeked darling, do-anything, go-anywhere medium, and brands and agencies couldn’t say enough good things about how adorable it was. Now, when talking to people from that side of the media landscape, I tend to hear more that it's difficult, challenging, hard to manage, and hard to understand. So -- a teenage medium.

Even if 2012 saw mobile hit its surly teen phase, there have been some key achievements, too. Early in 2012, the U.S. hit a critical threshold when smartphone penetration crossed 50 percent of all U.S. mobile consumers. We’re now approaching half of all American adults having a smartphone. Combine that with the fact that over 20 percent of American adults own a tablet and you have a huge audience for media and content, apps and services. 

While mobile has been and continues to be a highly fragmented medium (think of the diversity of screen sizes and resolutions, operating systems, device types, networks and connection speeds, and user interfaces…), 2012 also saw technical and industry solutions that aim to reduce the impact of that diversity and fragmentation. IAB efforts on the creative front: our MRAID standard for mobile rich media advertising, and our Mobile Rising Stars ad formats, both aim to enable dynamic, immersive, exciting creative that can achieve reach across publishers, sites, and devices.

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2012 also saw growing interest in and adoption of an array of solutions that go by the name “responsive Web design,” which promises to enable content to transform its size, layout, and composition to best suit whatever screen requests it. Responsive design is a very young technology, and possibly overhyped relative to what it can do today.  But I’m encouraged by its potential to help counter the costs and complexities of mobile fragmentation.  Tools to simplify building HTML5-based and/or responsive design-capable ad creative started gaining some traction this year too, and ad designers are beginning to gain expertise in using them.

If that's a brief look back at some of the positive things our teenage medium accomplished this year, what does 2013 hold? I have a few ideas there.

Off all the things that make mobile a "difficult" medium, absence of or confusion over metrics is perhaps first on the list. Just as in the early days of the PC-based Web, difficulty measuring whether an ad campaign is working or effective is a widely cited reason why mobile advertising revenue isn’t growing at its full potential. This is a place where industry standards and best practices can have a significant and positive impact, and so it is definitely an IAB priority. We have a number of projects underway now or kicking off in 2013 that will help bring greater clarity and consistency to mobile measurement. These initiatives will also benefit from the digital-industry-wide work going on in the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) project. 

I also expect that we’ll see video on mobile devices really take off in 2013. Usage is already exploding -- the IAB released some new consumer mobile video research just last week that helps confirm that. In the coming year, we’ll see the industry wrestle with identifying the best, most effective video advertising models and making sure the existing IAB V-SUITE digital video standards work well on and serve the needs of mobile devices.

Finally, I believe that 2013 will see media companies, brands, and agencies alike increasingly think seriously and tactically in cross-screen terms. Brands are realizing that mobile works best integrated with other media as part of a cohesive ad campaign. But they need help understanding just how, and how much, mobile contributes to cross-media advertising, and experience designing and building those types of campaigns.

Summing up, 2012 has seen and 2013 will continue to see mobile:  growing fast; becoming creative in new and exciting ways; still scattered and fragmented; pushed to live up to benchmarks and standards just like any other medium; and embraced (willingly nor not) back into the family of other media that advertisers leverage to deliver messages.

Teenage years are never easy, whether for a person or a medium. But mobile's promise is still amazing, and I'm excited by it, and I'm looking forward to the IAB, as digital's guidance counselor (to stretch the metaphor one last time), continuing to help the mobile industry realize and achieve its full potential. 

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