Are ad agencies holding up mobile advertising?

Hachette Filipacchi monetizes magazine titles with

The Elle mobile site with a CoverGirl banner ad

Mobile's multifaceted role can be challenging to embrace and activate, which could leave traditional advertising agencies behind in understanding the medium and how it should fit into an overall marketing strategy.

According to mobile advertising specialists, some agencies understand mobile while others do not. To get all the agencies on board, mobile advertising companies need to give agencies the ability to more easily create and execute mobile campaigns at scale.

“Some agencies do and some don’t understand mobile,” said Paran Johar, chief marketing officer of Jumptap, New York. “The good news is that by and large, Madison Avenue has embraced mobile much faster than they embraced the PC Internet.

“The reason for this is that most holding companies saw what happened in the early days of the Internet with independent interactive/digital agencies that took the lead and they don’t want history to repeat itself,” he said.

“Consequently almost all of the major agencies or holding companies now have dedicated mobile divisions or agencies that help their clients and their internal teams learn about the enormous potential of mobile advertising.”

Simplifying mobile advertising
Although some advertising agencies do not get mobile, the majority of them do. They understand the importance that mobile plays in the multichannel strategy.

Mr. Johar said that most agencies are buying into mobile, since the number of RFPs from agencies is increasing at a phenomenal rate.

Additionally, the types of advertisers are diversifying and the renewal rate is increasing regularly.

What is key is making advertisers smart about their mobile advertising through targeting and simplicity in buying and tracking.

“In more instances mobile is the center lynchpin unifying a multichannel media strategy,” Mr. Johar said. “In order to make it simple, most media buyers are working with a few of the leading ad networks.

“[Ad networks] make it easy for buyers by aggregating audience across mobile sites and leveraging our data to drive user engagement,” he said.

In a complex ecosystem with so many different platforms – iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and RIM, to name a few – an ad network can help simplify things. 

Multichannel mix
According to Elena Perez, director of marketing at Medialets, New York, agencies get mobile in terms of its importance in the multichannel mix.

Agencies understand that mobile gives them the opportunity to connect their clients with consumers wherever they go, and that the same premium properties they work with online and on traditional media now have meaningful mobile inventory.

“There's no more waiting for mobile to arrive,” Ms. Perez said. “On the creative side, agencies recognize that mobile devices offer an unprecedented palette that drives high engagement rates – and they're really taking advantage of these capabilities.

“We are teaching a number of leading agencies how to create their own mobile rich media through our Medialets Create program and the resulting creative concepts and executions are really powerful,” she said. 

“A multichannel strategy that does not include mobile is an incomplete multichannel strategy. Agencies know this well, and they're increasingly using mobile as the starting point because it's so effective and provides continuity across channels.”

Per Ms. Perez, agencies are on board. The impact of mobile advertising – rich media, specifically – is no secret. 

What agencies want now is the ability to more easily create and execute mobile campaigns at scale.

Technical and executional knowledge
Sarah Amitay, vice president and director of mobile marketing at Mobext, Boston, agrees that in general, the leading agencies understand the role and importance of mobile devices in consumers’ lives as the people within these agencies are heavy-duty users and creators of mobile content.

However, if you define "getting it" in terms of technical and executional knowledge, most agencies are just starting to look at mobile as part of their digital offering, Ms. Amitay said. 

“I think that most agencies would like a easy and neat definition of what mobile is and how it plays a role in the consumer journey,” Ms. Perez said. “However, much like social media, mobile is becoming increasingly important in multiple areas and has the capacity to keep evolving as new devices and tools hit the market. 

“Additionally, mobile is not strictly a digitally-enabled medium,” she said. “Mobile is activating traditional channels such as print and out of home and in the case of ereaders, revolutionizing how we consume books and newspapers.

“Mobile is both a push and pull medium and there are many engagement points under those two parameters. I think that mobile's multifaceted role that is challenging agencies at this point in time - it's a lot to embrace and activate.”

Point of view
Mobile Marketer interviewed James M. Lamberti, vice president of global research and marketing at InMobi, San Francisco. Here is what he said.

Do ad agencies get mobile?
Yes. That answer might surprise some people, but our explanation will hopefully illuminate. 

In our view, mobile is no different than any other emerging media in the agency world dating back 60 years to TV. 

At first, a series of specialized firms or emerging media teams within larger firms experiment. Failure is expensive and its logical that major agencies let the medium take shape before investing heavily. This period of investment has ended. 

Major firms have either purchased mobile specialized firms or have internal teams dedicated to mobile. 

We see very few agencies lagging at this point and not using one of these two strategies.

Do you feel that ad agencies buy into mobile? Are they understanding the importance of it in terms of having it as part of the multichannel strategy?
No. While they now buy into it as per the answer above, there remains a disconnect between the specialized mobile functions within agencies and the broader media strategy. 

We view mobile advertising adoption along a continuum. Early days is specialized focus and trial. Those days are behind us. 

Today is about integration. We are in the midst of this phase and its always a bit painful. 

Specialized mobile firms are so dedicated to direct response that they do not often consider or measure branding. 

Major agencies are so committed to branding that they do not consider engagement. 

In the yet to come final stage, this disconnect is resolved and mobile takes it place along TV, print and radio as a major element of cross media.  

Do you see agency buyers turning to the mobile ad networks or are brands doing direct buys? 
It is a mix related mainly to the organization of the brand and its relation to the agency. 

Because mobile is so inherently global, brands that have a centralized global media planning function are buying directly. 

What's interesting is that we see brand-agency relations changing due to mobile technology and media. 

Agency relationships were historically always regional. 

While that is still the case for the most part, there is a trend toward global buying and therefore global brand-agency deals. 

Mobile, far more than PC, will drive a truly global approach to media that has been theoretical, but not practical. 

Mobile is making it practical and this change is happening today.

What needs to change in order for more agencies to jump on board?
Education and measurement. 

We are highly committed to both to change the mobile advertising industry.

Final Take
Here are some recent mobile advertising campaigns

Giselle Tsirulnik is deputy managing editor on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily. Reach her at