Mobile’s New Misleading Graph

Here’s something that instantly will become part of every mobile ad company’s sales (and venture capital) deck: Time spent with mobile apps has now surpassed the desktop Web, according to mobile analytics outfit Flurry. The follow-up is the complaint that marketers spent just $743 million on mobile advertising versus $9.9 billion on Internet advertising. The gap must narrow!

But as I noted earlier about this hoary notion of budgets following eyeballs when it comes to the Web, time spent is a poor gauge for the amount of budget a medium deserves. The Web is shortchanged because it’s terribly fragmented, isn’t all that well measured and has few attractive creative options for brands. Mobile is even worse.

Scale: Good luck trying to execute a huge ad buy on mobile. The rise of networks hasn’t meant a rise in high-quality environments at scale. Until this can be figured out, mobile will remain a rounding error of ad budgets. Facebook, most likely the most popular mobile destination, doesn’t even bother to run mobile ads. Flurry found that social networking, a huge chunk of which is from Facebook, accounts for 32 percent of time spent with mobile apps. That’s like the biggest media site on the Internet skipping ads altogether.

Creative: Steve Jobs promised us that iAds would mean mobile ads wouldn’t suck anymore. That hasn’t happened. For the most part, mobile ads still suck. Even iAds themselves have gotten pretty cookie cutter — and have low fill rates for publishers.

Targeting: Mobile ads are barely targeted at all. There’s no cookie for phones, and carriers are loath to dip into their subscriber information for networks. That means the mobile ads I see aren’t that much different from those seen by others. A few months ago, Buick ran a campaign that targeted owners of the new Verizon iPhone. Terrific, but what’s the point? Yes, you can target by that criteria, but it’s not the sort of segmentation advertisers want. Mobile needs to sort that out.

Metrics: Like any new media, mobile is still sorting out its metrics. Most mobile network campaigns have measured clicks. But now with the iPad, the move is afoot toward engagement metrics, an area that’s notoriously fickle. Buyers will need more standardization to feel comfortable that they’re getting what they’re paying for.

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