Commentary

The Measly 'Mea Culpas' Of Mobile Marketers

Listening to some of the panels at MediaPost’s OMMA Chicago conference the past two days, one would think the mobile advertising world is in for a revolution.

“The mobile experience is disgusting!” exclaimed one panelist. Others called mobile ads crappy and lamented the decline of artfulness in modern digital advertising.

The swirl of conversation around Apple’s iOS 9 ad-blocking announcements and its effects on mobile ads seems to have  surfaced a fair amount of self-awareness and soul searching among marketers and advertisers.

Still, despite these public declarations of desire for better mobile creative, the future of mobile advertising is as foggy as the view was from the 66th floor of the Willis (née Sears) Tower.

The gap between media time spent on mobile (24%) and the current ad spend (8%) is huge, representing a $25 billion opportunity. But where is all that money going to go? Banner ads? Annoying interruptive formats like interstitial video? Sneaky native ads in walled gardens like Facebook/Instagram or Google? Some new format that games or forces consumers into engaging with ads?

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Marketers at the conference expressed hope that the industry will shift to an experience model by sponsoring solutions to the problems that smartphone users come to their phones to fix, rather than interrupting their journey.

Maybe the industry will adopt that experience language when it rebrands itself in a couple years, but I can’t believe current marketing practices will change that easily. People like the promise and ease of reach too much to let it go in favor of more specific segmentation and better creative. And no amount of new standards or negative reinforcement via ad blocking will make someone do good work. Most will just do the bare minimum to get their ads viewed.

The way things are looking now, by the time that $25 billion makes it into the mobile space, the vast majority of the inventory that will be bought and sold in the future will be the same stuff (or the 2019 equivalent of thereof) that we’re calling worthless now. People will still make a lot of money -- and the mobile experience will still suck.

The question of  blame came up several times during the conference as well. It's obvious that many marketers are uncomfortable with the positions they find themselves in regarding mobile ads, but I think the question really is: Will the industry at large change its bad mobile cultural practices as more and more money starts to fill the space? Will it collapse on itself? Will it evolve?

Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to watch.

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