Advertising Is The Wrong Answer For Non-Advertising Problems

It’s a $2.5 billion slice of the online advertising pie, but few brands or their agency advisors are prepared to fully bake mobile in to their campaigns.

David Hewitt of SapientNitro, writing in TechCrunch notes that “many brands still do not have a mobile or encompassing digital strategy in place. Moreover, many agencies are still growing a set of basic mobile capabilities.”

Why haven’t brands made more gains in mobile? Maybe because mobile is so much more than another platform for serving up ads. Mobile is a lifeline to one’s world, via phone, email, social sharing, plus instant and text messaging. The question, therefore, is where in all that one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-one is there room for advertising?

Marketers and their agents do not have “the answer” to that hard question, nor do the largest social platforms like Facebook. In fact, Facebook recently admitted that “we do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven.”

Facebook currently does not display ads to its 420 million mobile users. But companies like Celtra are busy building “serious products that lives on top of the Facebook platform,” according to Adweek.

In other words, it’s a matter of minutes before ads begin to regularly appear on my handset, and yours. We will most likely recoil, because our handset is conceptually private space, unlike the TV in the living room (which is programmed by strangers). Brands aren’t all that welcome in this private space, unless they make themselves welcome by providing killer entertainment or utility.

It seems to me that betting the house on an ad-based model is the wildest kind of speculation. Facebook’s IPO is coming up and millionaires will be made by the thousands, but much of the valuation is based on the belief that a workable ad model will someday emerge. I don’t understand the confidence.

The success of mobile advertising is not a given. For that matter, the success of online advertising is not a given. We keep trying to lay 19th and 20th century frameworks on a 21st century media. Who’s going to step back and see the problem with fresh eyes? My guess is it will be someone with very little knowledge of CPMs or CTRs.

It’s a topic we will also take up tonight during the recording of this week’s edition of TheBeanCast with host Bob Knorpp. I’m on this week with Ken Wheaton, Bill Green and Åsk Wäppling.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.