They promised us jetpacks

Posted by IAB Australia On September 16, 2014

Last week’s launch of the iPhone 6 was another reminder that we are all carrying around immersive multi-media machines in our pockets.

And certainly nobody wants to hear about “year of the mobile” a phrase with about as much relevance as “the year of online video” or the “year of the fax machine”.


However whilst the consumer revolution in mobile devices has been one of the defining aspects of this decade, unfortunately the advertising industry just hasn’t managed to keep up.

So why is the industry not able to help advertisers shift spend into the mobile channel to keep up with consumer behavior? Mobile was supposed to be the panacea for the industry and a way to push beyond all those pesky newspaper closures, in the process supercharging the digital revolution.

Mobile promised us the future, it promised us jetpacks!

Well in my opinion, to understand how traditional ad models have stumbled on mobile, we need to look at the multi-dimensional nature of the platform itself.

The truth is that the blanket term “mobile” itself is probably a bit of a misnomer to start with. What we are actually dealing with is a complex ecosystem comprising of a world of competing devices and vastly differing operating systems.

One of the main problems seems to be that offering standardized ad units is difficult. Not only do different devices and apps need different ad formats, tech platforms and tracking metrics, actual user engagement itself is fragmented.

This fragmentation has been slightly addressed with third-party ad serving helping to increase accountability. However, many handsets still don’t allow third- party cookies, causing major headaches in measurement of conversions and acquisitions.

And until the industry agrees on a standard on measuring branding objectives, shifting branding dollars into digital remains as challenging as in any other channel.

So the reality is, that until these measurement black holes are overcome, mobile is going to struggle to take more than its current 2-3 percent share of media plans.

Obviously there is an arms race in place to come up with a suitable measurement planning and reporting tool, but don’t expect anything this year.

But of course mobile ads are out there, but rather than a slick eco system of native display, most of what we see simply replicates desktop formats, and that’s just not working.

Search, display – and to a smaller extent, video – are dominating through Google and Facebook controlling two-thirds of worldwide mobile ad spend through a duplication of their desktop products.

So what should we do? How do we get mobile advertising out of the wilderness and eventually claim the spoils (and our jetpacks)?

The answer as I see it is to approach mobile for what it is, a totally new channel and device with its own rules and conventions. We should be playing to the strengths of these little miracle devices, not simply bundling last century ad products for ease.

The first area to be addressed is targeting. We all know the basics of geo- targeting, but so far the mobile has not played to its strengths. Location-based audiences provide targeted reach for brand advertisers; we know who they are, what they are doing, where they are doing it, where they are going, and when.

As an industry we need to start taking advantage of this in creative and measured ways. The tech is there, but few companies are able to extract this data and even less are able to create the needed insights and knowledge to package this into easy to understand products for brands.

Secondly, let’s stop being lazy around what advertising is supposed to be all about; the actual advert! We need to start being smarter at engaging the possibilities of the mobile ad unit, to leverage the unique environment and behaviours. Where are all the maps, the engaging rich-media units, tie-ins to direct calls to the nearest branch, or scannable voucher codes?

And last but not least, the key to communicating campaign success, as recently identified by the IAB, is measurement. Incorporating elements like custom landing pages and microsites for post-click conversion tracking are not that difficult, and can be invaluable in providing an adequate measure of response.

Mobile is set to overtake desktop in time spent by consumers. And it seems odd that as an industry we are still struggling to connect with the opportunities they can offer.

In a few simple steps we can start to visualise a future of mobile revenue that at least looks like in belongs in this decade. Maybe not quite as sexy as jetpacks, but no doubt considerably more useful.

IAB Australia

IAB Australia is the peak trade association for online advertising in Australia. As one of over 43 IAB offices globally and with a rapidly growing membership, the role of the IAB is to support sustainable and diverse investment in digital advertising across all platforms in Australia.