By Elliott Haworth, Writer

October 7, 2019 | 5 min read

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Two decades ago, in 1999, the Nokia 3310 was unleashed upon the world. One could argue it signified the moment that mobile phones became not a nice-to-have, but an integral part of our daily reality; an accessory, an identity, and latterly, a legend. Some 126m of the handsets were sold. According to the World Telecommunications Development Report 1999, mobile was emerging as a ‘mini industry within its own right,’ worth around $155bn. Fast forward to now and these figures seem cute. Spending on mobile advertising alone is due to hit $165.7bn this year.

So much has changed so quickly, it’s hard to keep apace. At Advertising Week New York 2019, The Drum editor, Stephen Lepitak, sat down at The Drum Arms with AdColony and the who’s-who of the US mobile advertising scene, to discuss what comes next.

The potential of mobile

Almost immediately, AdColony’s general manager of brand, Jude O’Connor, refuted the very sentiment of future-gazing, when so many brands are not even using the “million and one different capabilities that mobile already offers,” adding that 95% of the brand owners have never taken advantage of the real potential.

“Simple things like haptics; the phone being able to vibrate in your hand during impactful moments of the video, or in automotive ads where the car goes driving off-road and kicks dirt up on the screen, and the user has to use their finger to wipe away that dirt – taking video from a passive to an active experience.”

The panel was in agreement that despite there being a mobile phone in five billion pockets around the world, brands still don’t prioritize mobile as a channel in its own right, as they would with more traditional media.

Taking an omnichannel approach with mobile can negate the opportunity to create interactive, dynamic ads that are more engaging and bring better results, according to O’Connor.

Rahil Berani, vice president of Digitas North America, puts the apathy down to a “gap in the educational process of how important mobile can be in your entire media model.” It's almost unfathomable”, he says, “that people haven't taken a grasp on how important it can be. Because you're going to start seeing incremental lifts across all sorts of metrics that you're looking to bring to your brand.”

Mobile marketing challenges

And whose fault is that? “Unfortunately”, Berani says, “I think it falls on everybody, including the agency, the brands themselves, and in the work that vendors are doing to educate on the fact that these metrics and measurements are here, and you're going to see exactly what you're looking for.”

One measurement that continues to dog the mobile ad industry is the percentage of fraud. The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimates that up to 30% of advertising is unseen by consumers, affecting about 21 trillion online ads annually. No one really knows the true scale of the problem, but conservative estimates put the annual cost to advertisers at around $34bn a year.

One way around this problem of ad fraud is through interactive ads, the roundtable participants advocated.

“If it's playable, if it's something that's like: ‘hey, I've got a wipe off the mud that's now on my screen’. Okay, well, guess what? You've now just basically weeded out bots,” adds Rob Rakowitz, initiative lead at the WFA’s Global Alliance for Responsible Media. “That's a really interesting way to make sure I'm actually getting a human view. And this is the whole thing. If you just serve video based on how its distributed versus how it's interacted with, then you're just you're basically fighting a fight with one hand.”

Mobile gaming for the masses

Gaming, meanwhile, is a market untapped by many big brands, despite mobile games composing just shy of half of the global games market and despite mobile games offering a safe environment of highly-engaged, active consumers.

“Everybody games, right?” asks Rakowitz. “Why isn't gaming a mass reach vehicle? Why am I not giving it the attention and giving it investment, telling my creative agency ‘you must create specifically for this environment?’ And it basically comes down to sort of a mandate, and sort of recognizing that the industry is struggling for mass reach environments. This is a mass reach medium.”

Mobile advertising today represents an industry many years ahead of itself; the tools and platforms exist in droves, especially within gaming, yet marketing departments are only waking up to this new reality, according to all the participants.

What opportunities does in-app mobile gaming present for marketers? Rakowitz says marketers need to consider the “rule of 3.” According to him, “mobile gaming gives brands a mass reach, it drives interactivity – and gaming is a great medium to drive both reach and attention, and thirdly it allows us to leapfrog some of the endemic issues that exist within digital – including ad fraud and brand safety.”

“The gaming consumer is probably the most engaged in all of media,” says Berani. “The users within mobile gaming are active, engaged, wanting and willing to take rewarded-based-ads for the sake of getting more out of the gaming environment. "

One can’t help but wonder, though, what the Nokia 3310 would think of all of this. If one considers mobile gaming today an evolutionary iteration of a primitive game like Snake, it’s dumbfounding to see how far we’ve come, and to wonder where we will possibly go next.

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