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Mobile’s Paradox

May 21, 2014

At yesterday’s MI Summit in New York that brilliantly assembled an interesting array of the mobile ecosystem, (agencies, start-ups, VCs, data experts, etc.), speaker after speaker commented about the growth of the smartphone and its expanding global base of multiple billions of users.

However, underneath the hyperbole, the paradox of the industry was laid bare; the industry has billions of users who love and depend on their devices, but the industry doesn’t yet have its fair share of ad dollars.


There appear to be five major reasons.

1. Lack of Measurement

Mobile doesn’t have the luxury of cookies, so data has to either come from registration or unique identifiers that are generated by the wireless companies. There are people trying to develop workarounds, but this seems like a massive stumbling block.

2. A Gold Rush Mentality

Even if the industry isn’t getting its fair share of ad dollars, there are still billions being invested in the industry. This means there’s no shortage of companies with various advertising platforms that can get ads to users. However, while the distribution mechanism is there, the approaches seem really primitive. As Visa’s Shiv Singh pointed out in his presentation- most of the time it’s advertising that’s trying to trick users into clicking, which obviously doesn’t give the business a good name.

3. The Lack of Killer Creative Case Studies

The current best in breed creative isn’t inspiring for users or creatives in the industry. Mobile advertising is bad at best and could mostly be classified as annoying. The business badly needs some creative wins and that’s going to demand agencies and experiment and networks understand that there’s more to the story than eyeballs and they need to deliver user engagement.

4. The Wrong Model

Perhaps the fact that mobile advertising is simply a retrofit of the print advertising model is its problem. While the print model of placing ads close to content worked for decades and wasn’t seen as overly intrusive, with mobile’s smaller screens and a user who’s accessing multiple content streams, it might not be right. Instead brands might be starting to realize that the only way to truly engage mobile users is with its own applications, until the mobile ad industry comes along with an alternative solution.

5. Over-Promise

Mobile devices are all seeing and all knowing device, they are  “intent” machines. It’s the promise of being able to reach the user either at the moment they are about to make a purchase decision, or with content that so contextually perfect that it delivers deep engagement, that transfixes brands. This has been the promise for a long-time, but it’s been impossible to deliver in a compelling enough way. The industry continues to hype this potentiality without delivering on it, with obviously dangerous consequences for its credibility.

For the past decade, the mobile industry has been saying “this is the year of mobile” and it still isn’t ready for primetime.  It’s driven by the belief that on day things have to be different and somehow the potential of billions of users and their daily interactions with their most treasured device, will be unlocked.

Judging from the evidence presented at yesterday’s MI Summit, it still has a lot of growing up to do.

The alarming thing to note is whether the mobile industry’s brightest and best are still committed and even interested in solving the ad problem. At yesterday’s summit it looked like they might have already moved onto “the internet of things”.

It’s therefore critical that brands and their agencies don’t give up or accept the status quo and instead push the mobile ad networks and publishers for opportunities and solutions that allow experimentation and the testing of ideas that are deeply engaging and more in line with user needs.

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