Mobile Advertising: Maybe Next Year … or the Year After That

For nearly a decade now I’ve been hearing, “This is the year for mobile advertising.” However, based on recent polling research I suspect the mobile industry has a bigger, underlying problem that that will greatly slow its adoption: Even advertisers hate the idea of ads on their phones.  

In polls conducted with more than 2,000 visitors to, developed in conjunction with research provider Vizu, research showed that 76 percent of advertising types said, “Over my dead body” would they be willing to receive advertising on their cell phones. Only 15 percent said “Yes,” but it was a qualified “yes,” requiring permission. And these were ad people being surveyed, not general consumers.

As former CEO of the IAB, I believe I learned a thing or two about what it takes to create a new medium and garner advertising industry support.

First, know that I believe in the vitality of mobile advertising because I think it has a compelling, unique selling proposition and the power of locality — a new way for advertisers to target and bring relevance to their advertising messages. Mobile has many other strengths, including: interactivity; the fact that it’s personal (and will hopefully be personalized); its omnipresence (which, while unique, could also be accomplished with media mix); and its ability to do sight, sound and motion, with which marketers tend to be enamored. 

As a marketer, I’d really want to be looking at those elements, in particular the USP, to figure out how they can be leveraged to get a competitive advantage for my brand. And it’s best to do that now, before my competition figures it out.

Today, cell phones and other devices already have a major audience. In the same research, we found that 77 percent of’s readers have a cell phone, 63 percent have a Blackberry or BB-like device and 72 percent have an iPod or similar device. It makes you wonder if the ubiquity and familiarity of mobile might be working against itself.

Plus, it’s not like advertisers don’t use the standard “medium” feature of their phones. Fifty percent of’s readers said they access the Internet on their cell phone at least once a week and 35 percent of those said they do it every day. 

Additionally, 49 percent take business calls “anytime” and another 14 percent said they take calls from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thirty-one percent said they check their Blackberries until 11 p.m. and 22 percent said they check them all night. Finally, 63 percent said they text every day. 

The data surely suggest this is not a medium that’s going to die from lack of reach, low usage or not having a USP. No, this is a medium that the most important consumers in the world, the advertisers, prefer not to be tainted with ads.

In my last piece I highlighted that the rate of ad blocking on the Internet is out of control and DVRs in TV land are demonstrating that consumers are fed up with advertising’s practices. Mobile is apparently suffering from contempt (as a medium) prior to execution.

I suspect that marketers, at some level, are afraid their own typical spray & pray approach used in other media might be applied to this much more personal medium.

I often get asked to speak on how we can avoid making the same mistakes the Internet made, to which I answer the following.

First, a new medium needs to prove not just its advertising effectiveness, but its cost effectiveness versus other options. Mobile hasn’t done this in the way that it needs to yet, and it needs to look beyond the value of a click, which the Internet was way too slow to address.