NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a matter of weeks, several new mobile units have sprouted up within adland, prompting debate in ad circles about whether the offerings should take root within creative agencies or form under media shops.
Omnicom Group recently launched a mobile-marketing consultancy called Airwave under media agency giant OMD. According to Jon Haber, U.S. director of OMD's Ignition Factory, a media shop is the intuitive place to house a mobile unit.
"Mobile is bought in many of the same ways that digital media is bought, but it stretches across coupons, CRM, texts and out of home," he said. "It bleeds into all other media types. An agency like OMD touches other media units, so it makes sense for mobile to be in-house so it can integrate into everything from TV to digital."
OMD has also dabbled in mobile creative work; in 2009, it created the Dockers shakable iPhone ad with rich media provider Medialets. While paid media was a component of the Dockers campaign, it also received a lot of attention for creative.
Paid media has dominated recent buzz in mobile advertising with Apple and Google buying into the category. In January, Apple acquired mobile ad network Quattro and just recently launched its souped-up mobile ad unit, iAd, with big-budget advertisers such as Citibank and Unilever in tow. That followed Google's $750 purchase of AdMob, which was under prolonged investigation by the Federal Trade Commission until just recently.
But for a platform that also includes brand apps, partnerships with developers and location-based services, there's much more to mobile than display.
Boston-based shop Mullen earlier this month announced its dedicated mobile unit and, with it, is trying to bridge the divide between media and creative. The unit is aligned with the agency's media planning and buying group, MediaHub, though mobile lead Brenna Hanly will be embedded in the agency's creative department. A spokesman for the shop said the agency will have three dedicated staffers in the mobile practice to start with.
"A lot of mobile ideas have stemmed from the media teams, but I think more and more the creative and account teams need to know what's possible," said Ms. Hanly. "I'm going to be sitting on the creative floor rather than working with the media buyers. I am going to be a catalyst to foster mobile creative thinking."
Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB is another agency that's just launched a mobile offering, though its not spinning it off into a separate entity. Instead, it's forging partnerships with mobile-technology firms such as Dublin-based Velti to keep tools on hand.
"By virtue of setting [mobile] up as an external agency or as an outsourced contract relationship, you're bolting it on to the side of whatever you're doing, as opposed to weaving it in collaboratively from the beginning," said Patrick Moorhead, VP and director-mobile platforms at DraftFCB. "The fact that an agency wants to add a few bodies of people to focus on buying display advertising in and around mobile content doesn't surprise me very much," he added. "It also doesn't strike me as very innovation-driven."
The rush to formalize mobile expertise at shops outside of the digital space is fast-growing, industry executives say.
Publicis Groupe has since 2001 had mobile marketing agency Phonevalley, which sits under Vivaki, the arm that includes media agencies Starcom Mediavest Group and Zenith Optimedia and digital agencies Digitas and Razorfish.
Digital agencies such as AKQA maintain dedicated mobile departments, and a range of new-breed agencies have also grown up to partner brands and developers. Brands can sponsor existing mobile apps through firms like Appssavvy -- less an ad agency than a developer and brand matchmaker that works with the two parties to create custom programs. The firm has handled programs such as H&M branded virtual jeans in the mobile social game MyTown, and a recipe tab dedicated to Don Q rum in the Mixology app. There are also pure-play mobile agencies such as Meredith Corp's the Hyperfactory, which has built iPad and iPhone apps for Kraft from scratch.
Why more are now beginning to enter the space might just be a matter of scale.
"In an agency world where things are based on fees and commissions, to have standalone units, you have to have a certain amount of money going through to justify having staff on it," said OMD's Mr. Haber.
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Contributing: Maureen Morrisson