Is Mobile Phoning It In?

The IAB's Anna Bager on the challenges facing the still-nascent advertising medium

Anna Bager

Anna Bager is vp and gm for the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence. In that role, she tackles fundamental tasks like developing core metrics and standard ad units for the fledgling medium. She recently sat down with Adweek to talk about the state of mobile marketing.

Obviously, mobile is growing like crazy. Yet there almost seems to be a frustration in the industry that things aren’t better. Why?
I think you’re right. There’s a little bit of frustration. It’s funny. For years, everybody was saying, “Mobile is never going to work.” Now you hear, “Why is it not working?” We’re certainly doing our best, working on measurement, inspiration, doing some of the heavy lifting on ad ops. And publishers are really doing their best to make this happen.

But you hear some publishers and advertisers complain that mobile is repeating many of the mistakes made in the display ad world.
For publishers, right now, it’s heaven and hell. Mobile is cannibalizing their Web traffic. They’re not making money right now. But this is what happens in this stage of a medium’s life. If you look at historical trends, the display market unfolded much in the same way as mobile. Early on, ad networks ruled. Then exchanges. But I want to make the point that mobile is not like display advertising. It’s part of a value chain. It’s not a device; it’s a behavior. So when you hear about the problems publishers are having with capacity and CPMs, there’s actually an undersupply. The reason you don’t get paid a lot is, we’re not doing it right. You’re not seeing it as a brand-building tool that it could be if we’ve only been focusing on promotion. With mobile, you can own the customer.

Can you give us some specific examples of how mobile can be used outside of just ads on mobile Web pages?
I was sitting there watching the Super Bowl, and in all these ads, there was not a single call to action using mobile. It’s not enough to use a hashtag. We want something more. Another example: Everybody now has a smartphone. When you sell someone a car, you could enable a buyer to get special services, products, via an app or Web interface that controls their car and is exclusive to that model.

Are we too hung up on the idea of a mobile wallet?
I come from the telecom industry. All of my ex-colleagues and competitors are focused on that. The transaction is what you want to own. Device makers, publishers, carriers, credit card companies, they all want it. It may take much longer than we want to get a standard.

Could you see mobile video emerging as the best ad format for this medium? Or native advertising?
Video is fantastic, but it does also have problems. Things like capacity in networks. There’s also people’s expectations in certain content [that doesn’t always lend itself to video]. Native ads are probably perfect for this medium. But it’s very hard to make money on them because it doesn’t scale.

People seemed very enthusiastic about ads on tablets. Where are we now?
Things are shaping up great. That’s really probably the future. Tablets are becoming the screen we use for everything, a bigger part of our media experience as a whole. These are the kinds of things we need to think about. Tablets are mobile but are also different entertainment devices.