Recap of Mobile Advertising Events – Stanford and Seattle

Recap of Mobile Advertising Events – Stanford and Seattle

This week I had the opportunity to moderate two distinguished panels on Mobile Advertising in two days, one at Stanford University and the other one in Seattle. This post summarizes the issues and points discussed during these two sessions.

Stanford University by Mobile Momentum

The first one was part our book tour and was organized by Mobile Momentum, an organization lead by Prof. Tom Kosnik and his student Mohit Gundecha. The event was sponsored by three of the pioneers in Mobile Advertising space – AdInfuse, Admob, and Rhythm New Media. My co-author Victor Melfi and I walked through some of the salient points of our book. We discussed the history of advertising, the digital revolution of the Internet, delved a bit into the definition of mobile advertising, the challenges and accelerators of this nascent industry, pondered over the business models, illustrated some of the successes using the case studies and our five-points framework (reach, engagement, targeting, viral, and transactions), briefly touched on the technology issues and gave our 2c on what it will take for the industry to go from its current state of “cautious optimism” to promise of “contextual nirvana.” Some of the key points were:

  • Keep things in perspective
  • Understand the business, not just the technology
  • Chant the User Experience mantra
  • Give Users Control
  • Respect Consumer Privacy
  • Focus on the most critical 1%
  • Prepare for Data Everywhere
  • Visualize Three Screens
  • Watch your kids: They are the Market
  • Watch for external catalysts to change like Alternate Devices and Open Platforms
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Our talk was followed by a panel discussion with Ujjal Kohli, CEO, Rhythm New Media, Tony Nethercutt, VP, Admob, and David Staas, VP, AdInfuse. All these guys have had distinguished careers in mobile, advertising, and digital evolution of our industry and hence the depth of knowledge on the panel was just great. Each of them has had successes with campaigns around the world, not just in North America. Admob with its billions of impressions every few weeks has blazed the way in the off-deck world. Rhythm has been quite successful with advertising with mobile video snacking at 3 in UK.

AdInfuse has been running some interesting campaigns in Europe like with Swisscom.They were achieving 8% CTR on WAP banner campaigns, 50% of users who clicked through to the WAP landing page completed a purchase. Recall rates were as high as 27%, more than 80% of the users rated the model of “free video content in return of advertising” positively vs. 2% who didn’t like the idea. Rhythm has also experienced similar numbers with their 3 UK campaigns. It is remarkable that 40% of the subscriber base is using the service and one can still watch the ad subsidized videos even if they have run out of prepaid minutes. The reach provided by Admob to its advertisers is phenomenal. Coca-cola’s campaign touched 125 countries. We cover Rhythm’s and Admob’s case studies in more detail in our book as well.

We touched on a wide variety of topics and I was struck by something that Ujjal said. He was previously CMO of AirTouch Cellular so brings in a very unique perspective to the table. He said, “For the carrier, No amount of Mobile Advertising Revenue is worth the risk of losing a customer.” The issues around privacy, customer satisfaction, customer care costs are critical for an operator to assess as they dive deeper into this new emerging medium.

There are a number of developers who are interested in exploiting the opportunity of mobile advertising but don’t want to deal with the complexity of the ecosystem and ad networks. There is an opportunity for some of the existing players to open up the APIs to broaden the reach.

Seattle by TiE

Next day, TiE Seattle organized a panel discussing “Mobile Advertising: Making the most of the next generation in advertising.” The panelists were Scott Silk, CEO, ActionEngine, Brian Lent, CEO, Medio Systems, Eric Hertz, CEO, Zumobi, Jeff Giard, Director, Alltel, and Jason Guenther, Director, Disney. Again, a pretty diverse panel representing various players in the value chain.

I started by probing the panelists on how we go about defining “Mobile Advertising.” Brian, not surprisingly, thought Mobile Search is going to take a lion share of the revenues just like how things evolved in the online world. Eric and Scott articulated their view around On-Device Portals, Widgets, and User Experience. Action Engine has been having good success with many of the large media brands such as MSNBC and WSJ while Zumobi has come out with a platform that takes user experience at the center of its strategy.

Though at number 5, Alltel has been introducing innovations quicker than some of its peers. Its Celltop application is yielding significant results with over 400% increase in usage if the application is within Celltop framework. Next, they are going to be putting the Celltop as a Home Screen (Idle Screen) app like what Koreans and Japanese have been doing for some time. It was refreshing for Jeff to right away state that this industry is not going to move forward if we don’t solve the “fragmentation” problem. I have said before that “Fragmentation is the biggest enemy of the mobile industry” and w/o solving the issues of fragmentation at different layers, we won’t get into the hypergrowth mode that will take the industry from $2B today to $20B in five years. Jeff thought that mobile advertising presents significant opportunities for the industry including the carriers but we need to be mindful of the issues around privacy, customer care, and customer satisfaction.

Disney is world’s premier consumer brand and very few companies understand the three screens better than Disney. Jason’s perspective on how mobile fits into the larger picture was an important one. He views mobile as a critical channel for any content company but reminded that a lot of work needs to be done in terms of standardization, metrics, auditing, and  privacy before mobile advertising becomes a thriving industry.

In both places, audience was well informed and highly engaged. Questions ranged from business models to technology intricacies. People didn’t think some of the newer MVNO models like that from Blyk will last too long and that for the trends will different for different geographies. For example, in emerging markets, mobile is going to be the only means to bring digital advertising to the masses, a point we make in our book as well. Will high-end phones be free subsidized by advertising as Eric Schmidt had proclaimed, well, don’t bet your life on it, at least not just yet though if someone like Google makes up its mind, it can, as Victor says, “make the market.”

I really enjoyed engaging with the panelists and the audience. Plenty of questions, we could have gone on for hours if not days. It was quite hectic but fun. Next week, I am moderating a panel “Mobile Mania – Show me the Money” at Washington Technology Industry Association and then facilitating a developer forum “Mobile Jam Session” at CTIA on 31st. On 24th April, I will be giving a class on Mobile Advertising at Stanford University (Prof. Kosnik’s course) and the same evening, I head to Sacramento to give a talk being organized by TechCoire on “Mobile Advertising: A $20B Opportunity?” In May, on the 13th, I will be in NY giving a talk on mobile advertising to the advertising executives, on 20th will be doing a book event being organized by CommNexus in San Diego, and on 21st will be moderating a panel discussion on the promise of mobile advertising at the highly regarded Future In Review Conference.

Hope to see some of you on these sojourns.