The Mobile Morass

At the Mobile Upfront this week, there was an impressive lineup of agency execs, cash-flush mobile ad networks and platforms cheerleading that the year of mobile has finally arrived. But talk is cheap. The simple fact is very few brands are walking the walk when it comes to mobile.

More than 50 speakers graced the stage, representing eight holding companies. The one thing that was abundantly clear is that, beneath the broad plaudits for industry growth, agencies would like their clients to be spending more on mobile, but they don’t have the toolsets and data to convince brands to reach deeper into their pockets. Yes, mobile is the future, but the devil remains in the details.

“Can we get appropriate planning tools?” asked Jeff Minsky, director of emerging media at OMD’s Ignition Factor. “Can we get to an unduplicated reach across properties? And can we get away from being a [direct response] ROI-driven medium to one that drives them as well as branding?”


Vik Kathuria, EVP of GroupM/MediaCom: “We’re on a great trajectory and the numbers are staggering, but right now the brands are still just spending pennies on the dollar. We’ve yet to have those meaningful conversations at large scale. We need to be talking about more than optimizing $50,000 campaigns.”

Minsky pointed to the lack of research tools as a major obstacle to ad spending flowing into mobile. “There’s no good comScore or NetRatings solution for answering simple questions like, ‘how many people play Farmville or Angry Birds?’ We need to get these solutions implemented to get the money flowing.”

The hurdles aren’t just in the planning tools. Mobile commerce is still facing its own slew of problems, ranging from users having a hard time keying in credit card info on small touch screens to a lack of standardization for any solutions. Using secure SD cards was one example, but everyone agreed that the likelihood of Visa, Mastercard, Verizon and AT&T agreeing on a standard was minimal at best.

Dynamic Logic’s svp of emerging platforms, Ali Rana, warned that the novelty factor and first-mover advantages in mobile advertising may be running out. And while targeting on mobile devices is better than in any other media, things have changed on the creative front. “This year, you are going to see brand value erode if you aren’t doing it right.”

Andy Wasef, director of emerging platforms at MEC, also brought a sober vision to the stage. “We still need to understand the strategic role of mobile. Right now it’s been very tactical. Once you understand the unique benefits of a mobile strategy, then you can get into the tactics and figure out what elements need to be improved. Without the strategic role, the other things don’t fall into place. We need to ge the strategic role of mobile right first. ”

Wasef also cited data as being a potential headache without a proper understanding. “It can become a deluge if we don’t make it actionable. We aren’t quite where we are in online in our ability to analyze and use the data. Because of the gaps that exist, we’re limited in terms of utilizing that data.”

Most surprising was Jack Hallihan, vice president of mobile innovations at Mojiva, who, in a discussion about creative, stated unequivocally, “Mobile isn’t there yet. Agencies are frustrated about when and how to use mobile rich media. It’s confusing, so they go back to using static banners and landing pages, which breaks the user experience. The number one issue is how to get from strategy to brief, and from brief to execution. ”

All this is not to say that mobile is a balloon ready to pop any day now. That’s ridiculous. Take a look around at the train station or in a restaurant: people are glued to their little glowing screens nearly 24/7. The challenge will be whether the industry coasts on that fact or rolls up its sleeves to do the hard, unglamorous work to deliver on the grandiose promises that have been made about mobile for the past decade.

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