Editorial: Mobile faces challenges despite popularity

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DMNews' Gloves Off debate in this issue asks whether mobile ads have finally gone mainstream. Our contenders put up their dukes, citing reasons why mobile will or will not reach critical mass this year.

There's no doubt mobile advertising and marketing in 2010 is on a steep growth curve. Two of the largest online players have signaled their commitment to the space in the last couple of months, investing a billion dollars in mobile ad companies. Apple spent $250 million to acquire Quattro Wireless, while Google laid down $750 million for AdMob. These companies also compete on the mobile hardware front.

There is no shortage of companies currently testing mobile. We track them closely in these pages, and there has been a flurry of activity as major marketers give mobile a whirl.

Verizon debuted a mobile couponing service this month. Sports Illustrated is pimping its annual swimsuit issue through a mobile campaign. State Farm ran a successful mobile contest involving live texting at a college football game; Electra Bicycles launched an iPhone app for gearheads; and Gunstock Mountain Resort created a mobile loyalty program, doling out mobile-exclusive coupons to customers.

One of our Gloves Off contenders, Jeff Sass, VP of business development at Myxer, says "the healthy competition on the operating system and handset fronts has resulted in a much better mobile Web experience and thus much stronger consumer adoption," which is good for the industry.

Sass suggests the only thing holding back mobile advertising is that agencies and brands have not embraced it as an essential part of a fully integrated campaign. Perhaps that is true: Less than half of marketers (48%) polled by Millennial Media, a mobile ad network, said they had developed a mobile campaign.

However, the much bigger issue in my opinion is fragmentation among handset marketers, wireless carriers and content creators. Standardization, particularly in device operating systems, is still a long way off.

In the Verizon example above, you are out of luck when it comes to saving at Kroger, Safeway and ShopRite unless you are a Verizon customer. Similarly, the Electra Bicycle app only works on Apple's iPhone.

Measuring mobile ads is just as vexing because brands and their agencies are contending with data from several different ad networks and platforms. It makes tracking next to impossible. Until some standardization occurs, the mainstream will have to wait.

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