American Marketer


Automation vs. innovation: The matchup that shouldn’t exist in mobile advertising

September 23, 2014

Ari Brandt is cofounder/CEO of MediaBrix Ari Brandt is cofounder/CEO of MediaBrix


By Ari Brandt

The surge in smartphone usage presents a tremendous opportunity for the digital ad industry to make serious advances both in technology and how brands can engage consumers. It is a completely new medium, which means it offers a new user experience, new user expectations, new technologies and new opportunities.

Yet the ad industry’s treatment of mobile has left me asking a lot of questions.

Why are we serving the same crappy advertising patterned after desktop units such as pre-roll video ads, mini banner ads, interstitials and the like? And why have we accelerated automation that makes it so easy to deploy such formats when industry research shows that users do not respond positively to these ads?

I believe we should hit the pause button on automation in mobile advertising before we denigrate another platform.

To move forward, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Remember: on desktop, the industry has primarily automated twenty-five-year-old ineffective ad units via programmatic methods as a way to create efficiency.

With mobile, we have an opportunity – no, an obligation – to reinvent what advertising looks like in this medium, but instead we are racing to repeat our past mistakes.

Symptoms of the problem
In-application mobile advertising provides the industry a chance to circumvent issues such as banner blindness and viewability that are ongoing concerns with desktop advertising.

While these issues do not exist on mobile, we should not stop innovating.

Mobile ads are increasingly being bought and sold through programmatic methods in the name of efficiency just like desktop ads. Yet, this method may be hurting brands more than helping them.

In fact, according to a recent Millward Brown Digital marketer study, a large portion of Fortune 500 digital brand marketers said that programmatic methods negate customer experiences or brand building.

Missing link: Emotional connections
But there is a solution.

The right technology embedded into software developer kits can provide the ability to accurately understand real-time signals or moments via bi-directional communication, giving us a new way to serve ads that are not only impactful, but also that are contextually relevant to what a user is doing and how she is feeling.

While standard programmatic ad buying methods cannot deliver this yet, creative formats with dynamic messaging that align with real-time moments can.

Programmatic methods cannot deliver on critical digital brand marketers’ key performance indicators either, including making emotional connections and earning people’s trust.

According to the Millward Brown Digital marketer survey, almost half of respondents found that making emotional connections with people through digital ads is an important branding objective.

Plus, 70 percent said that they want to make emotional connections to build brand recognition, loyalty and trust.

That is why many people in the industry are speaking out and calling for change.

For instance, Louie Moses, president of Moses Anshell, recently said, “Analyzing data gets you up to the point where you still need to make an emotional connection … creative storytelling will always make that connection.”

I could not agree with Mr. Moses more. Data alone cannot facilitate emotional bonds.

We need to empower digital and mobile brand marketers to stop dehumanizing people and get back to the essence of advertising: making true people-to-brand connections.

Way forward
To be successful in mobile, digital brand marketers must seek out innovative, creative formats that will resonate with viewers and position brands as heroes, not annoy and interrupt users.

Digital brand marketers must buy ads that acknowledge users’ states of mind and appeal to their emotions.

However, such creative ad formats are not yet available through automated tactics, although I believe that technological advances may enable this in the future.

Now, I am all for automation, but we are making a huge mistake with mobile if we do not address innovation first.

We have an opportunity and an obligation to take a fresh look at mobile, which is the most exciting opportunity presented to digital advertising in the last 30 years.

No wonder eMarketer estimates that the new medium will surpass desktop in ad spend by 2017 and predicts that mobile ad spending will increase 83 percent to nearly $18 billion this year.

CAN MARKETERS make the most of mobile if we continue to automate the wrong elements of our industry? I do not think so.

While programmatic ad buying can be effective, alone it cannot empower brands to make emotional connections or earn people’s trust. Not yet. And it certainly will not enable marketers to build their brands on mobile devices – or, frankly, anywhere else.

Ari Brandt is cofounder/CEO of MediaBrix, New York. Reach him at