iAd Creator Takes Another Swipe at Better Mobile Ads

Startup SessionM borrows from gaming world to spice up creative

Mobile advertising is growing at a healthy clip. But despite the explosion in consumption by consumers, the medium has failed to capture the imagination of advertisers. Apple’s iAd initiative has fallen flat, while many Web publishers have been fearful that mobile banners are headed toward the bargain-basement prices common among traditional display ads.

Several major new initiatives are under way to take mobile advertising to another level while tapping into mobile devices' unique nature. At the forefront is a startup, SessionM, which has lined up considerable mobile talent, publishers and advertisers. The company was founded by Lars Albright, co-founder of Quattro Wireless, which Apple snatched up in 2010 prior to launching the iAd using Quattro's technology.

The idea behind SessionM is essentially to increase app usage and retention for publishers while improving mobile ads overall. Bill Clifford, SessionM’s chief revenue officer, argues that small banners are eminently easy to ignore on small screens, particularly within small apps. SessionM's answer is a standardized platform that lets publishers weave advertising into apps of all sizes while borrowing elements from the gaming world and even credit card reward programs.

Demand Media, which is using SessionM for its Livestrong Calorie Counter, will reward users who access the app regularly, providing them with achievement points, status goals and potentially access to exclusive content.

An app publisher like Livestrong can give users points for watching a brand’s video ad or engaging with an expandable ad unit. Publishers can tailor reward programs to their app’s design, Clifford said.

Clifford said there's an industry movement toward what he called value exchange-based ads that are popular in gaming, but he claims SessionM is the first to use it across multiple categories.

“Our model works in news, sports, entertainment, etcetera," he said. "The marketing becomes more like content for these publishers.”

SessionM has signed on a slew of notable media companies in addition to Demand, including Viacom, Fox Sports and Glam. The company claims its network of app publishers will soon reach 50 million unique users.

On the ad front, the company has already enlisted Kmart, Honda, Tyson Foods and Volvo as charter sponsors. SessionM maintains its own sales force, but individual publishers can also sell SessionM ads.

Besides advertising, Clifford said he sees potential for SessionM to facilitate the growth of mobile commerce, as publishers could let users redeem earned app points for real-world dollars.

Zumobi is another mobile media company hoping to elevate mobile advertising with the launch of a new ad platform.

The company, which publishes about 60 apps for clients such as MSNBC and Bonnier's Popular Science, said its new Zumobi Brand Integration (ZBi) platform, launching today, leverages its experience as an app publisher and mobile app network to make mobile ads more organic and engaging.

Instead of tacking on a banner ad at the bottom of a mobile screen, Zumobi tries to integrate ads with content already on a user's screen. It also lets users share content via Facebook or Twitter with one click and bookmark an ad with a dynamic mobile app.