AppNexus Touts its Growing Mobile Clout

Unveils bold tagline, but acknowledges mobile's lack of brand dollars

AppNexus wants to own mobile. But maybe it's better first to ask: is mobile display advertising worth owning?

During the company’s annual summit in New York on Wednesday, AppNexus executives touted the company’s fast-growing mobile footprint and its plans to lead in this burgeoning space. In particular, officials touted the company’s recent deal to power a mobile exchange for Millennial Media, dubbed MMX.

“We want to be the leading mobile ad ecosystem in the world,” said president Michael Rubenstein.

In fact, AppNexus now handles a stunning 6 billion mobile ad impressions a day. “[Mobile] is real, it is here and it is huge,” added Ryan Christensen, AppNexus' vp of product.

That sure is a lot of impressions. But the conversation at the summit felt like a parallel universe where the appetite  for mobile display ads is red hot. Millennial Media co-founder & president Paul Palmieri defended his company’s poorly received acquisition of rival JumpTap (an audience member asked why the stock price fell), arguing that 60 percent of his network’s revenue is from brand advertising, and that the hottest ad formats for app developers include mobile video and rich media.

"Agencies are really understanding that this is a place they’ve gotta play,” said Palmieri

Instead, to hear brands tell it, mobile is still dominated by mobile app companies marketing other mobile apps; think games driving users to install other games. Meanwhile, if anything, brands have turned to Facebook, Twitter and Google, which have stolen the mobile ad spotlight from ad networks. And most publishers are complaining about brutal CPMs, making AppNexus’s talk of 6 billion impressions a day scary, not hopeful.

AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley acknowledged that the mobile ad landscape has work to do. “Facebook, Twitter and others have made the one screen experience seamless,” he said. “The mobile ad ecosystem hasn’t done that.” O’Kelley used the example of many Web publishers running small banners in the corner of their mobile sites, rather than putting video or large display ads front and center. “We have to help push that. … Brands never really embraced the desktop. Now we think the desktop is dead.”

Still, for the time being, AppNexus is helping serve a whole lot of desktop ads. But its future focus lies in mobile. And in fact, its ambitions just got a whole lot grander. The company unveiled a new tagline on Wednesday: “Powering the advertising that powers the Internet.” A bold goal that Google might have something to say about. 

“It is bold,” O’Kelley said. “We want to compete. We have to. We are getting too big not to.”

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