The Future of Mobile Ad Sales: Change, As Usual

What’s next  with mobile?

It’s a question that all of us are regularly asking ourselves, our colleagues, pundits and maybe even a stray Ouija board or Magic 8-Ball. But in an industry as quick to shift as mobile advertising, it seems wisest to turn to those on the front lines:  the IAB’s own member companies.

To take the pulse of mobile ad selling, we surveyed our members that sell mobile display and video inventory. The questionnaire garnered responses from nearly 50 companies, some small, some large, some with traditional media or PC backgrounds, as well as “mobile natives.”  While the sample was not large enough to be definitive, we definitely see indications of looming challenges for mobile sellers not prepared for the changing needs of their client brands and agencies.

First and foremost, the mobile ad marketplace is shifting toward a metrics parity with other media, with buyers requesting a guaranteed audience metric. This isn’t surprising, considering the cross-screen world we currently live in.  Just as cross-screen is the reality today, audience-based measurement (eventually across all those screens) is the wave of the future.



Some seem ready for what tomorrow brings: Almost half therespondents to our survey reported that they could already sell mobile display inventory on a guaranteed audience/GRP basis.  Another 14% have plans to do so. Similarly, about 44% of those selling mobile video ad inventory said they can currently do so on a guaranteed audience/GRP basis, with another 19% expecting to have the capability in the next six months.

Still, this leaves a big portion of mobile ad sellers out of the mix.  And even for those getting on the GRP bandwagon, the lack of an standard industry definition or calculation risks sowing confusion and making cross-publisher or cross-media comparisons difficult.  This underscores the timeliness of the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, as the IAB, 4A’s, and ANA move beyond the initial viewability mission to the next wave of the program: standardizing a digital gross rating point.

Another “next” on the mobile metrics front relates to completed views for video impressions.  According to our survey, more than half of respondents selling mobile video inventory are currently being asked for cost-per-completed-view pricing.

In some ways you might read this simply as a variation on viewability.  But there is a significant difference between a viewable digital video ad and one that was watched from inception to completion.

Selling pay-per-completed-view video ads puts the ad seller in the untenable position of being responsible for whether or not an ad's creative is compelling enough to keep consumers’ attention for a full 15 seconds or more, as well as for the behavior of video creative streaming over a mobile network.  For now, it's up to ad sellers to determine whether they should sell on this basis, but many will face severe pain points if completed views become the rule rather than the exception.

Beyond metrics, the survey also shed light on the growing role of exchanges in buying and selling mobile inventory.  Our findings reveal a great deal of disparity between display and video. Forty-six percent of respondents report selling mobile display inventory via some kind of private exchange. In addition, 35% report using an open auction/public exchange for some of that mobile display inventory. In sharp contrast, only 15% of respondents selling mobile video ad inventory are doing so via a private exchange. Separately, 15% sell via public automated or exchange infrastructure.

These results are not surprising. Mobile display ad standards are well established, and third-party ad serving is increasingly common.  By contrast, mobile video is a more nascent arena with more inherent technical complexity -- particularly around delivering ads in-stream -- which puts widespread use of exchanges a little further in the future.

All of this speaks to the same old thing in the mobile world: rapid change ahead.

This small survey spotlights many of the ad-selling challenges mobile media companies must surmount. Guaranteed audiences, cost-per-view or completed-view, and mobile exchanges/programmatic transacting are here to stay.  The only open question is, what will be the new and disruptive issue the next time we field this survey?

1 comment about "The Future of Mobile Ad Sales: Change, As Usual".
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  1. Anni Paul from BoscoSystems, May 16, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    Don't forget native ads... they're going to shake things up in mobile advertising as well. The writing is on the wall for that reality -

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