The last six months of jockeying between Google and Apple have put a spotlight on mobile advertising. The news has been such that one could be forgiven for thinking that these two companies have the only platforms needed to reach consumers on mobile devices.
Both are certainly making significant investments to be consumers' platforms of choice. They have spent over $1 billion acquiring mobile advertising companies, and released new devices to create new product categories and distribution channels (e.g., Nexus One, iPad). Not surprisingly, such moves have attracted in-depth Federal Trade Commission investigations along the way. While the convergent timing may be coincidental, it is emblematic of a broader struggle over the future of advertising.
But if, as Gartner, Pew and Morgan Stanley predict, more users access the Web through mobile devices than PCs in as soon as three years, then marketers will need solutions beyond these platforms to maximize reach and engagement with their target audiences -- audiences that use, and will continue to use, different technologies and networks. And ultimately, because advertisers care more about reach and engagement than the particular device or OS, they'll need to embrace open solutions that work seamlessly across any mobile device running any operating system.
Both Apple and Google are working to shape the mobile Web in their own image. Apple's mobile platforms enforce a "walled garden" of content and applications, controlled and distributed exclusively by Apple. In such an app-centric environment, Apple seeks to reshape the mobile Web as it sees fit. Adobe, for example, has already abandoned Flash efforts for the iPhone and iPad after recent restrictions imposed by Apple. And Apple's iAd advertising strategy seems focused on rich media delivery for premium brands.
In an opposite strategy, Google's Android platform for phones and tablets -- including its network-agnostic Nexus One -- seeks to break mobile's long history of failed walled gardens with an environment as open as the PC, friendly to all Web and client applications. Adobe Flash, to continue the previous illustration, will be supported by upcoming versions of Android. Google's advertising strategy, given auction marketplaces like Adwords and Admob, seems long-tail focused.
But, according to comScore last quarter, Apple represented only 4 percent of the U.S. devices at the end of last year. Android held less than 1 percent.
Nielsen reports that U.S. mobile Web reach is now 72 million, a critical mass. Clearly, to communicate with that audience, mobile advertising campaigns need to go beyond Apple to handsets from Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, RIM (BlackBerry) and LG, all of which have a larger installed base than Apple.
The promise of mobile is a more effective digital advertising delivery system given the personal nature of the medium. As it further delivers on its promise -- using consumer intelligence to target people -- the audience starts to narrow, particularly if one is targeting a specific mobile device. Therefore, campaigns need to reach across multiple platforms to aggregate large enough groups of users.
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