Do you ever get the feeling that the ship has set sail and you may have missed the boat? When I think about the mobile advertising space I tend to feel that way. At least a little bit.
For years mobile was promised to be the “next big thing” but the feuding of the major carriers got in the way of any single standard being developed for advertising on the primary platforms (“on deck”, so to speak) and they missed their shot. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint; you all had your chance and you pretty much blew it. Times are passing you by and other players are in the space faster than you could have imagined.
Due in no small part to wasted opportunities, Apple, Google and Microsoft are creating their own phones with their own standardized platforms and they’re quickly taking over the mobile space. Of course, Apple, Google and Microsoft are potentially going to do the same exact thing; fight each other and ignore the chance to create a standardized model for mobile advertising that integrates directly into the operating system. If they could come to terms and agree on a model that worked, my opinion could change, but I don’t foresee it happening and if I were a TV network or cable carrier, I’d pay close attention to this issue. Co-opetition is a good thing when you make it work.
Based on the lack of standardization and the rapid growth of competing platforms, I am going out on a limb and may be the first person to say that mobile advertising has plateau-d (at least in its current iteration).
Mobile advertising has too many problems facing its growth and the old stand-by of penetration is no longer one of them. More and more people are buying smart-phones, so more and more people have the opportunity to see advertising on a larger, more impactful screen. More people are watching video on their phones. More people are engaging with the web through a browser on their phones. More people are interacting with standard content formats through a mobile platform so the mobile advertising opportunity becomes only an extension of those standard formats from a computer. There’s nothing truly special about these ad formats as they are the same as what you get online (In a browser, you see ad banners. In video, you still get pre-roll). In fact most ad networks are openly enrolling your ads into their mobile placements as well without telling you, thereby blurring the world of mobile and standard Internet even more. The lines are blurry because the usage is not differentiated in the eyes of the consumer. As mobile phones become “mobile computers”, the standard for computers is becoming the de-facto norm.
The only unique thing that mobile has going for it now is the application space (or apps). Apps are the growth area of mobile and that is where Apple and Google are headed with their recent acquisitions of mobile ad networks. These networks place ads inside applications and make it easier to sell them to advertisers by packaging them up for advertisers. These ads are moderately effective; they’re really best as a reminder vehicle for a message that you already engaged with somewhere else. They’re not as targeted as web ads because they don’t have the sophistication of behavioral targeting, so they are primarily contextual. The volume of inventory available on these platforms is low and the growth rate seems steady, but not impressive.
The grandiose ideas that mobile would be a stand-alone medium are starting to fade. Digital is the umbrella term that encompasses mobile among other components. Mobile is a line item that speaks to specific objectives and supports a campaign by being embedded close to the point of contact for many consumers, but it really is not a stand-alone medium and signs point to the fact that it may not ever be.
Of course, mobile can change its path if the industry can begin to look at the operating system itself as a marketing vehicle. This will require some cooperation among the various companies playing in the space, but I’ll reserve hope that they’re able to figure it out. Until then I’ll be on my boat, watching things sail on by (and no, I don’t really own a boat – it’s a metaphor)!
Do you agree with my observation or do you think mobile advertising will grow rapidly over the next few years? Let us know – post your replies in the Spin Board!