Mobile Ad Industry Calls for Standards As Devices Proliferate

A Confusing Array Is Holding Ad Rates Down, Trade Groups Say

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With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and corresponding apps and mobile websites, mobile ad unit inventory is varied, complex and constantly growing. For creative shops, this has meant a difficulty in devising campaigns engineered to run on a myriad of devices. Publishers, likewise, have been left with painfully low CPM rates for mobile ads even as consumption on mobile devices has increased.

Interactive Advertising Bureau's mobile phone creative guidelines

Click to view: Interactive Advertising Bureau's mobile phone creative guidelines

The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are hoping to change that by imposing a new set of industry guidelines. The two groups released the "Mobile Phone Creative Guidelines" on Friday in order to help standardize mobile advertising industry-wide.

Streamline mobile ad buying, selling and serving, and the dollars will follow, they say.

"Historically, we've been applying Internet language to mobile," Michael Becker, managing director for MMA North America, said. "But mobile is a unique medium that gets you closer to the consumer than any other. Because of that it needs its own unique framework."

That means categorizing ads based upon a variety of specs including their size, load time and whether or not they uses rich media, according to the new guidelines. Mr. Becker pointed to Charles Darwin's development of animal taxonomy for comparison.

"This is about making an efficient, creative nomenclature we can all use," he said. "How we can actually create a scientific model and structure so we can be efficient and deliver ads easily?"

Despite being a point of emphasis for advertisers and publishers alike, mobile remains a nascent ad channel in terms of effectiveness metrics. By adhering to the proposed guidelines, advertisers will be help resolve what Google's head of global mobile sales Jason Spero calls mobile's "attribution problem;" determining which metrics accurately measure mobile ad performance.

Companies from all sectors of the mobile ad industry--including ad serving company Medialets and online music service Pandora--have sought industry-wide standards because they believe it will stimulate mobile marketing spending. Thus far, spend has lagged behind consumers' mobile media consumption, making it difficult to create significant ad revenue from mobile.

"The more process and agreement we have from both the publishers and the buying community, the faster we can create research that will allow brands to start to shift their ad dollars based on [mobile] consumption," Pandora CRO John Trimble said in an earlier interview.

Questions remain, however, as to whether it's feasible to impose rules on the ever-changing mobile ad landscape. With the release of each new mobile device model comes new ad units and unique challenges for advertisers and publishers alike.

There's also the threat of stifling innovation in an emerging marketing channel.

Mr. Becker acknowledged this concern, but said that abiding by a set of standards will actually increase creativity within mobile space. Creating an efficient ad serving process will allow marketers and creative agencies to focus their time, effort and money on creating rich media ads for an array of devices instead of wasting time tweaking the size of unengaging banner ads to fit a variety of only slightly different ad units.

A difference of just two pixels can mean an ad displays beautifully on one mobile device while it crashes on another.

"What we're suggesting is that we can have efficiencies in the market because you all have ad units that are so close to being the same," Mr. Becker added. "We have found that if we can standardize across the marketplace, the ad unit can flow the system unimpeded and be displayed and reported consistently."

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