We Still Have a Long Way to Go Before Mobile Video Advertising is Fit for Purpose


Irfon Watkins

While mobile video advertising continues to see stellar rates of growth, that growth could be even greater were it not for the multitude of technical challenges facing the ad tech vendors, publishers and advertisers. As Irfon Watkins, CEO at Coull, explains here, there is light at the end of the tunnel and most these teething problems are likely can be solved by continued industry cooperation. Irfon will be speaking on a panel on Restoring Trust in Video Advertising on day one of New Video Frontiers, London, Oct 20th-21st. 

A couple of weeks ago Verizon formally announced the launch of Go90, its free mobile-first video service, with proclamations of reinventing the TV ad model for mobile. Despite the lofty claims, the substance was sorely lacking. You’d expect some details about this revolutionary ad model and how it’s going to pave the way for unbridled brand investment in the channel, but you’d be disappointed.

In reality the platform will launch with standard pre-roll and mid-roll ads, including repurposed TV ads. I’m not trying to put the boot into either Verizon or AOL here, as almost every company with a stake in mobile advertising has at some stage claimed to have found the holy grail, the ad model that delivers revenue while respecting the channel’s inherent foibles. It’s just getting a little tiring that almost all have been wrong.

As audiences flock from TV to desktop to mobile, and by ‘mobile’ I mean mobile-web and apps as both are in rude health, it’s imperative we as an industry overcome the barriers to advertising on the channel. We need to admit that transferring established practices from an established channel to one that is markedly different just won’t work. We need to innovate quickly and across several stakeholders.

The user dilemma

Users have had enough. Ad-blocking is the industry zeitgeist right now, and what used to be a niche term and practice recently garnered headlines on the BBC – it’s gone mainstream. The stay of execution desktop advertising was given will not exist on mobile, recently cemented by iOS 9’s inclusion of adblocking compatibility for the first time.

Mobile devices are intrinsically personal, an extension of every user’s consciousness that’s with them 24/7. The more a device becomes entwined with an individual, the more carefully the integration of advertising within the channel should be considered.  Display banners, openly derided on desktop, are the number one vessel for ad spend on mobile right now, while in video lengthy pre-rolls that take up the entire screen are commonplace.  These ad formats are artifacts of another time.

We need ad experiences that reflect the format and function of the channel and the requirements of the end user for a fair value-exchange.  That means relevant ads; pre-roll lengths that are a maximum factor of <0.1 that of the content they precede; new, more seamless formats tailor-made for communicating brand messages.

The publisher dilemma

Some publishers have adapted seamlessly to the mobile landscape, with Facebook probably the best example of a well-integrated model that is driving lucrative returns. You’ve got a video format that’s seamlessly inserted within the user’s feed, prominent enough to engage audiences but not invasive enough to irritate. The balance between content and advertising is acceptable.

Facebook also have their vast pool of psychographic data, tied to profiles that can be tracked across multiple screens, enabling advertisers to capitalise on ‘people-based marketing’. This has successfully satisfied the appetites of the buy-side over the last eighteen months.

For mobile and app publishers who operate outside the closed environments of these giant platforms, the challenge is in establishing a video offering that delivers on those requirements but is viable within the framework of their owned and operated properties. The solution may come from pooling resources to engage in cross-industry innovation in developing open ad units and delivery mechanisms that give advertisers access to scale while reducing friction in ad delivery.

The Advertiser’s Dilemma

Advertisers are desperate to invest in mobile video but important questions around campaign verification, ability to target users effectively and diverse formats are putting the brakes on spend.

The first problem is that VPAID, the ad delivery standard on desktop that enables the integration of tags from Integral Ad Science and Forensiq and their ilk to check post-campaign viewability ad fraud metrics, has failed to take hold on mobile web. This limits the ability of buyers to bring accountability to their spend and optimise effectively.

The incompatibility of cookies with mobile devices is also a ball and chain around the ankles of this nascent sector. While Facebook, Google and Apple sit pretty with unique advertising IDs based on logged-in users across devices, the open-RTB audience pool offers no such audience targeting capabilities.

Walled Gardens are Leading to Fragmentation

With the siloing of mobile video inventory behind walled gardens such as Facebook there’s also been a diversification of video formats, each with a different buying platform, creative requirements and transactional measures (playback duration etc). This not only makes planning and measuring the effectiveness of media buys more difficult, it creates friction in the ad ops process of delivering campaigns too.

The current standoff see advertisers unwilling to fully commit and waiting at the sidelines, ad tech vendors scrambling to give publishers the magic mobile formula and publishers implementing format after format hoping something sticks. All the while user loyalty is tested to its limit.

Proactive and open evaluation and adoption of standardised formats, transactional metrics and cross-platform  tracking technology is the only way we’ll see mobile realise its true potential. This innovation is happening right now but it desperately needs to be accelerated if we’re to establish a sustainable ad model for the mobile environment.


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