Only you can save mobile advertising

 In advertising only you can save mobile advertising
John Tanner posted an excellent article recently over on titled “Only you can save mobile advertising

I met with John in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress and apparently our discussion there promoted his thinking and this article – glad I helped fuel the debate John.

His byline for the article is “The real value in mobile ads is relevance, rather than reach” which is something I have been saying for some time now, and so it is interesting to have other authors test this theory.

Quoting from the article, John starts by mentioning the Google approach to  “interest-based advertising”, and asking how this might apply to mobile (note the emphasis is mine) …

The idea, now in beta, is simple enough. Google wants to use its AdSense program to deliver ads to your web browser based on where you surf and what you watch on YouTube, and to allow you to refine your preferences accordingly.

Google breaks ads down into categories (i.e. entertainment, games, finance and insurance, etc) and lets you select the ones that interest you – or none at all, if you want to opt out entirely. Result: more relevant ads will be displayed on AdSense-powered sites you visit.

Where things could really get interesting is how Google eventually applies this to its mobile strategy.

Mobile advertising is a massive work in progress, but one recurring point is the need to ensure that mobile-based advertising, be it SMS alerts, mobile web banners or interstitials flashing on the screen as the phone rings (as Gigafone recently demonstrated for me), is relevant to the target. Mobile’s always-on and heavily personal nature practically demands it.

Andrew Grill, head of business development at Gigafone and self-styled mobile advertising evangelist, noted on his mob ads blog London Calling that the Google model on the web could help the mobile advertising case by providing a case study to show brands and agencies that the real value in mobile ads is relevance, rather than reach – provided it respects the “3 P’s” of mobile advertising (privacy, preference and permission) that ensure users have complete control over what appears on their handset.

However, the issue of privacy and control in mobile ads could be far more complex than it looks. In his debut weekly column for Fast Company, futurist Jamais Cascio addressed the Google announcement and expressed doubts about reconciling the theory of relevant ads with the reality that people often don’t use the web the way advertisers expect. “

Machines get shared, people use multiple browsers, and, increasingly, web users are savvy about being able to block ads, regardless of how targeted they may claim to be.”

The point made above by Jamais Cascio however I believe only holds true on the internet, for with mobile I have yet to meet a person that will allow their handset to be shared – such is the incredibly personal nature of mobile.

John also makes a good point below about how advertisers will adhere to the 3P’s of mobile advertising

That’s not necessarily antithetical to mobile advertising, since user control is a core requirement to its success. The downside is that it’s not the advertisers that adhere to the “3 P’s” that will escalate the filter wars – it’s the ones that don’t. Users’ trust in the permission-based mobile model can be derailed by bad targeting or a handful of unethical jerks who invent the equivalent of pop-ups for smartphone browsers.

To be sure, web advertising has weathered the same challenges and survived as a viable business model. And it didn’t have the benefit of relevancy-based ad targeting. It will be interesting to see if relevancy will see mobile advertising through its own personalized trial by fire. But it’s worth remembering that it’s the users who will shape the business model that emerges on the other side.

I think John’s article not only echoes the views I have held for some time, but his article puts the challenge out to traditional advertisers and agencies who are yet to embrace the behavioural targeting benefits on the fixed internet, for fear of reducing their available audience reach.

It would at first appear counter intuitive that by allowing users to opt-in or opt-out of advertising based on the ad’s relevance to them will actually decrease reach – but will increase relevancy, and hopefully drive an uplift in sales (which is what advertising is designed to do).  Throw into the mix the unique 1-1 relationship of a mobile handset to a particular consumer and you have a better targeting system.

If we assume for a moment that the behavioural targeting and preferences model does actually work on both the fixed internet and mobile, the challenge then comes for those creatives to come up with advertising that is interesting to watch.

Indeed, I think we’ve all become fixated in the mobile space on trying to fit advertising built for a 16:9 TV screen or 800 x 600 monitor onto a small 2.4’’ mobile screen.

If we make it easy for users to select what content is useful and relevant, then the “advertising” delivered will appear more like welcome content.

Perhaps some information (note I have not called it advertising here) may actually be delivered by channels other than the mobile.  Operators such as O2, Optus and Telstra that hold fixed and mobile assets may be able to leverage both channels in tandem.  In this scenario, the mobile is used as the “remote control”, allowing users to select what they would like to receive, with the PC being the delivery channel.

Sky+ remote record A simple example of this at work is the Sky+ remote record service available in the UK.  Here you set up what you want to watch on your mobile via a nifty application and the service sets up your personal video recorder at home to record that favourite episode of Lost you forgot to set to record before you left the house. 

Indeed, your viewing habits and preferences themselves become interesting to advertisers, and I am sure that Sky have in their forward plans the ability to insert relevant ads via IP.TV stream. 

In this case, if I could identify what I am interested in via my mobile, then for the first time since television began, the ads I would receive would be totally relevant and useful to me – and I would view them as information and not advertising.

Clearly we have a long way to go before we reach this stage – either on the web, mobile or for Pay-TV, but I am thankful that John has helped to stir the debate on this issue – otherwise it could be just me banging on about this for the next 10 years!

You can read John’s article in full over at the website.


Based in London, The Actionable Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and comementator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.