Mobile video needs a shot in the arm. Could this be it?

Last month, big players put stock in mobile video—Apple, with its iAds auto play units on iPads and iPhones, and Facebook with in-stream video it hopes will command millions. But will it be the shot in the arm advertisers need to finally embrace mobile video as a branding medium?

“Mobile has so much untapped potential,” said Alex Linde,  svp of monetization at The Weather Channel. “Being able to go back to the fundamentals of marketing and be solid on message creative, to put big beautiful imagery, that’s where that brand performance will be.”

According to a 2013 study by Nielsen, 65 percent of smartphone owners use their devices to watch mobile video. Of those, 84 percent watch a video at least several times a week.

Everyone is seeing the same data, said MEC North America’s head of mobile Rachel Pasqua, on how video consumption is exploding. “The logical conclusion for advertisers is [mobile video] will get people engaged,” Pasqua said. “Ad-based video on mobile can see a lot of success because that behavior is there.”

But really inventive mobile video campaigns require early buy-in from clients, a place in a larger strategy and a time commitment by creative teams that have to concept, shoot and program ads. As a result, mobile video is largely approached by media buyers who want a piece of the mobile audience and purchase 3- and 6-second pre-roll spots, then ask agency to cut TV ads to fit.

“The planner isn’t thinking of mobile as a destination,” he said. “They’re thinking TV spots and Web, producing 30-second spots or a branded piece for Facebook or the Web.”

Instead, Weather takes the assets a brand already has and cuts it for mobile, Linde said. If the brand doesn’t approve, they have to turn that money away.

According to Colleen Whitney, national video lead for DigitasLBi North America, 2013 was a tipping point for online video where in advertising budgets started to catch up with consumer behavior. She said that many of the brands she works with are now investing 25 to 50 percent of their digital budgets in video and as much as 20 percent of their mobile dollars in video.

“It’s an inexorable march forward and advertisers are always where consumers are; it just sometimes takes time,” said Jason Krebs, head of sales at Maker Studios. “It takes a couple years of catch up, but then the money does come. That’s what will happen with mobile and mobile video.”

Quaker Oatmeal, for example, worked with Maker Studios to create a series of YouTube videos, but there’s been no talk about a shift toward mobile-only.

“What we’re finding, as we look at the spend across our clients, is digital budgets are increasing and digital video spending is continuing to rise year over year,” said Whitney. “As usage trends on mobile increase, some of the dollars are starting to follow in mobile.”

But even this movement is struggling because measurement isn’t consistent across channels. TV buyers want wide reach, but digital sellers sell targeted buys. TV-trained buyers talk gross ratings points (GRPs), but digital sellers are speaking CMPs.

“The whole industry is really struggling to figure out what a GRP means online,” Linde said. “While discussions are happening, there’s no real consensus yet of what mobile GRP is yet and that’s what buyers are looking for.”

Facebook is positioning itself in contrast to typical digital sellers—its huge audience is more akin to traditional TV and its measuring reach in GRPs. As a result, the platform is reportedly commanding $2 million for its ads.

If it succeeds, Pasqua thinks the industry will rally around what GRP means for digital. While she couldn’t speak to specific clients, Pasqua said that there’s interest across the board, as well as skepticism.

“Are brands going to spend that kind of money on new model? It remains to be seen,” she said.


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