American Marketer


What’s still wrong with mobile advertising?

September 16, 2014

Dirk Rients Dirk Rients


By Dirk R. Rients

We have all heard about the growth of mobile and seen yearly comparisons of ad spend versus time spent, but it is time to shift our focus onto the real problems with mobile advertising.

The industry faces a number of issues today, with creative innovation, scale, viewability, fraud and overall transparency all at the forefront.

In this monthly column, I will break down each one of these issues in greater detail.

Mobile ad tech firms eagerly promote their capabilities, yet no one is really educating brands and agencies on the importance of layering all available data together to build consumer profiles and improve targeting.

Most conversations this past year have been centered on location-based targeting. However, they fail to account for an important fact: just because a consumer is 0.2 miles away from a Best Buy, it does not mean he or she is looking to buy a new television.

While location data is valuable, there are still questions surrounding its validity.

The industry, overall, needs to embrace additional targeting options that go beyond standard geographic, demographic, device, operating system (OS) and wireless carrier. These options include purchase intent, weather, time, and brand CRM data.

By combining all of the available data, advertisers will be in a position to deliver relevant and personalized content to the right audience.

Creative and scale
Creative opportunities in mobile, such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s “Rising Stars” ad formats, face a lack of overall awareness and acceptance.

To date, as an industry, we have essentially been forced to try and create innovative and engaging experiences contained within a standard 320X50 mobile banner ad.

Most of the blame has been geared towards publishers, so agencies, brands and others have been working closely with them to drive innovation and build premium mobile advertising products.

Another area of focus with many publishers has been the prevalence of broken or outdated software development kits (SDKs).

Because of this SDK issue, many of the mobile rich media ads currently being built either fail to render properly, or only run on a limited number of mobile sites or applications.

There is still a tremendous opportunity in mobile advertising creative to deliver high-quality and engaging experiences at scale. This will ultimately deliver value to the consumer and produce key brand ROI metrics, including awareness, perception and recall.

Google announced late last year that it would now sell display ads, including mobile, based solely on viewability. This means that advertisers will only need to pay for ads that are seen by actual human beings.

Some industry reports have pegged mobile viewability rates to be as low as 50 percent due to factors such as stacked images, load time, 1x1 pixel fraud, bots and improperly executed tags.

The Media Ratings Council (MRC) and the Alliance of Audited Media (AAM) are two organizations tackling the issue of viewability in mobile.

To fix this problem, advertisers must focus on buying premium inventory, and begin to shift away from standard impressions and toward viewable impressions.

The word “fraud” immediately inspires apprehension in the mobile space, so we need to band together as a community and adopt methods to mitigate the problem.

The industry has started to confront the issue of fraud with organizations such as the IAB setting standards to define and regulate for it.

As marketers continue to shift investment from desktop to mobile, and eventually programmatic, more sophisticated fraud techniques will continue to follow.

To prevent inefficient mobile ad spending, brands and agencies need to demand transparency and identify mobile-specific solutions that immediately detect and block malicious traffic before ads are actually served.

The biggest reason why brands have been slow to spend money in mobile is the overall lack of transparency in the space.

Many of the programmatic platforms and media agencies with trading desks are now being asked by clients to be more transparent by providing outlines of overall spend, fees and where ads are actually running.

Mobile ad networks and exchanges are feeling the heat as well.

Currently, most only share high-level campaign data, such as the number of apps, app category, impression count and number of clicks.

For a brand or its trusted agency partner, this information does not mean much. It is ultimately up to the advertiser to demand a fully disclosed model to gain further insight into the consumers engaging with its ads, and whether or not it is truly maximizing its investment.

At the end of the day the entire mobile advertising ecosystem will drastically improve if the industry continues to set specific standards, and advertisers demand more clarity from their agencies and partners.

Dirk R. Rients is vice president of brand solutions at The Mobile Majority, Los Angeles. Reach him at