Last night a group of ‘mobile enthusiasts’ met at the gotomedia loft for an evening of discussion focused on mobile advertising. Attendees included Rudy De Waele, Mike Rowehl, Raj Singh, Paul Smith and others. Some interesting themes were raised, along with an overall sense of where we are today and where we might be heading in the near future. Here are some notes and comments from the event. Some of our initial questions:
The group used these questions as starting points for a larger discussion which I will try and summarize below. The bottom line is, we’re just at the beginning of a new era of mobile and integrated/convergent media consumption. The topic of mobile advertising has been discussion worthy lately, especially since the announcement made by Google last week that they are officially entering the mobile space. In an insightful post dated June 2th (pre-iPhone, pre-Google announcement), visionary Alan Moore discusses mobile as the 7th mass media in a post titled: “What do, Cyworld, the iPhone, blyk, Admob, MyNuMo, Artists first, Moblog UK have in common? They are all part of the 7th Mass Media: Mobile,” with some comments (paraphrased by Howard Rheingold in this Smart Mobs post):
Moving to the advertising sector, Alan thinks that the new mobile platform is the ground for far greater developments comparing to the traditional ad business of the classic media, due to the nature and expansion of the mobile technology that make the advertising messages more personal, thus more meaningful. This adds a new dimension to the viral and mouth-to-mouth marketing strategies, making them faster, more focused on appropriate customer audiences, and this way perhaps less expensive.
From our session, several themes rose to the top of our discussion:
1. Death of the Mobile Web and rise of the ‘Middle Web’: Fully rendered browser experiences and style sheet driven mobile sites are quickly becoming the norm. It was agreed that a new format of merged/converged web sites is rising and we coined it the ‘Middle Web.” The debate continues whether moving into .mobi or m.site.com formats for specific mobile content will be relevant in the future. Certainly there will always be room for targeted mobile content and services which merit custom microsites and separate URLs. However moving between the sites (cross-linking) along with access to transcoded web pages and web-based apps the ad model starts to fall apart. We see a larger gap created between commotization and specialization when it comes to ‘big’ web sites versus mobile-specific sites.
2. The iPhone Effect: It was agreed that the emergence of the iPhone has sped up the mobile eco-system 10x through usability and physical design. It has also largely cracked the mobile web issue by offering an easy to view, easy to browse solution. The U.S. has the ability to set the pace of innovation through both devices and content, accellerated because of the iPhone. Also discussed (briefly) was the fact that the full-featured phone is no longer limited to the enterprise audience. The iPhone gives ‘smartphone’ feature access to the general consumer, which finally gives rise to an entirely new level of content and services targeted to the masses.
3. Text Based Mobile Ads Enable Browsing: Through observation of user behavior, it appears that many mobile users click on text-based advertising as a means of cross-linking or browsing on a mobile device. Especially when the content is appropriately targeted, it seems the text linking replaces the ‘next’ button for bored mobile browsing. This might account for the extremely high click-through rates companies like Ad Mob and Greystripe are experiencing — not just a novelty, but content that enables continued mobile browsing.
4. Apps/Games versus Mobile Web: These two experiences on mobile devices are very different. Apps/Games are a bigger barrier to entry, but a better experience overall. The value exhange of ‘free’ for paid advertising is a double ‘opt-in’ for promotions and subscriptions. The ability to focus advertising and know the target audience’s needs and behaviors is high. Moving forward, the user experience and consumer adoption of web-based applications and flash games will decide the future, especially as the capabilities of the mobile web continue to evolve.
5. Is Mobile Advertising a Novelty? Two questions arise — is the current success of mobile advertising novelty-based and has it reached a plateau? Within the current mobile eco-system, mobile advertising seems to be flourishing. The click-through rates are extremely high, especially in countries where the mobile web is the web (i.e. South Africa and India). However when contrasted with regular web-based or traditional advertising spending, the monetization is not quite there. Funding for mobile advertising seems to be other mobile content and services, and works within a targeted and specific user base. Outside of the mobile eco-system, the future of mobile advertising seems questionable, especially in growth markets such as the Americas and Western Europe. For emerging markets such as China, India and South Africa — the promise of a larger mass market accessing mobile content and services continues to grow.
From a comment on Alan Moore’s blog post, a reader states, “Until either mobile can offer advertising real estate on a scale to match TV and print (and scale is not measured solely in number of devices), or the model for buying, selling and measuring advertising changes radically, mobile is not ready for prime-time.” More of this reader’s comments can be found on his blog: Brands, Digital Media and Me.
So – Where is the Future of Mobile? During our discussion, Raj Singh stated “The U.S. is the future of mobile.” Supporting this statement was the fact that the U.S. dollar wins overall (even though it is at a low point currently) and the monetary strength of the U.S. has influence over carriers. The walls are being torn down as Google ‘opens up’ and innovation paves the way into the future. Innovation is seeing as a ‘push’ rather than a ‘pull’ in various cultures and economic situations.
This was quickly counteracted by Mike Rowehl who stated “India and S. Africa is the future of mobile.” Developing countries such as India and S. Africa are jumping past traditional web-based and other consumption methods straight to mobile devices. However the infrastructure is still not in place and the user base is still too far behind to set the immediate trends. Fragmentation from both carriers and operators along with global convergence is not happening due to differences in culture, establishment of true 3G networks, etc.
As a wrap up, the group was resolved that in a contained mobile eco-system, mobile advertising works. But moving into traditional outlets and more general consumer advertising, it falls apart. Although mobile media is quickly moving into mainstream, there is still a wide gulf between the mobile and traditional media outlets for consumption of content and advertising. It’s surprising how traditional advertising and media is still tentative about the web – not to mention the mobile web with a mere fraction of a % of overall budget targeted to the internet as a whole. In the end, it was agreed that the future of mobile was dependent on community and communication — with the final success factor determined by the simplicity and utility of the user experience overall.