American Marketer


Big 3 challenges of mobile advertising have finally been solved

June 16, 2014

Sean O’Neal is president of Adaptly Sean O’Neal is president of Adaptly


By Sean O’Neal

For years, the digital marketing industry has been waiting for mobile advertising to “pop.” Even as mobile consumption jumped to more than 50 percent for major Web properties, advertiser adoption continued to lag. Despite valiant efforts by the Mobile Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, marketers never seemed to move past the experimentation stage.

Why? Marketers told us over and over again that there were three mitigating factors preventing them from making material investments in mobile advertising.

How the cookie crumbled
First, mobile ad creative stunk. It is true.

In the early days, both publishers and advertising agencies were guilty of repurposing their display banners into their mobile experiences. The clicks were largely accidental. Despite this, smart marketers could see that mobile was on the verge of explosive growth and wanted the early learnings, so they experimented.

But there was second hurdle.

Because the mobile Web does not support “cookies” – the unique tracking mechanism for the desktop Web – none of the clever ad-technology that had been developed over the past two decades for the desktop could help brands understand their unique reach and the percentage of audience duplication between their desktop and mobile audiences.

Most brands were not willing to make big investments without the ability to plan for reach and frequency or without knowing how much waste was involved. And yet, there were still some brave marketers who were willing to test mobile ads, just to see if it drove brand lift.

So then we were able to prove mobile ads worked, right? Nope.

The third and final challenge was the inability to prove effectiveness for brand advertisers.

For the same “cookie-less” reason, brand-lift measurement could not be used because it requires accurate tracking of users exposed to ads on multiple devices.

The result? Mobile creative stunk.

If you wanted to test it you had no idea how it related to your desktop media. And you could not prove it worked.

So after years of hype and frustration, the industry eventually stopped talking about the mobile ad revolution.

Like and tweet
But it can be convincingly argued that Facebook, Twitter and their partner ecosystems have solved all of mobile's ad challenges.

The creative solution? Native mobile ads within Facebook and Twitter’s newsfeed. They are full-screen, image based, and now Facebook delivers video.

These ads are non-intrusive and blend perfectly into the environment in which they are served.

As I scroll through my newsfeed I can choose to engage, share or simply keep scrolling. Given how captive the mobile user is while in her newsfeed, these native ads are the best possible creative pallet available within mobile today.

The tracking solution? Facebook and Twitter are “logged-in” environments that track your usage equally across desktop and mobile.

If a marketer wants to target a very specific audience across devices and hit certain reach and frequency goals, it is simple.

The one caveat is that this does not solve for every digital ad impression across the entire worldwide Web, but with 1.2 billion users on Facebook and 241 million users on Twitter, these platforms offer pretty good coverage.

The measurement solution?

For the same “logged-in” reason, we can deliver true test-and-control studies to measure brand-lift.

Since an individual user’s ad exposure can be accurately tracked across desktop and mobile, we can measure the lift in important metrics such as awareness, favorability, purchase intent and even offline sales.

SO IF THE three big challenges to mobile advertising have been solved, why no fanfare? Where was the press announcement? Did we live through “the year of mobile” and not even realize it? It seems as if we simply tired of the discussion.

During the back-and-forth about what it will take for marketers to adopt this new and ubiquitous form of media, advertisers just quietly did it. And it is working. But not just for the advertisers.

Facebook alone claimed $1 billion in mobile ad revenue in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Sean O’Neal is president of Adaptly, New York. Reach him at