And while two market makers, Apple and Google, have made major
acquisitions to fuel their mobile ambitions -- Google buying up
AdMob and Apple acquiring Quattro Wireless -- a handful of other
players, such as Millennial Media, JumpTap and InMobi, have emerged
with enough inventory and ingenuity to bear watching.
Unlike the PC/web ad network market, which supports dozens if
not hundreds of networks and exchanges, the mobile market is still
consolidated among a smaller number of players. And in recent weeks
both Google and Apple took major steps to more deeply integrate
those acquisitions into their core lines of business, with Apple
shuttering Quattro in favor of its own iAds, and Google moving to
better integrate AdMob's inventory with its core AdSense
"The market is evolving rapidly and we've clearly reached an
inflection point," said Anne Frisbie, VP at mobile ad network
InMobi, which has focused overseas but recently announced its move
into the U.S. "I believe mobile will surpass the PC web as a
primary channel much more quickly than anyone expects."
What mobile offers, and mobile ad networks help deliver, is a
way to reach consumers in a much more personal way, via a device
most have at their side practically all the time, and at moments
when they are out in the world and engaged in activities -- such as
travel, shopping or entertainment hunting.
"Mobile is not about location. It affords us the chance to reach
a new set of need states -- in an emergency room, looking for a
hotel, on the way to a store," said John Hadl, managing partner and
founder of BrandinHand, a mobile-focused agency that has worked
with Best Buy and Procter & Gamble on mobile strategies. "With
mobile, the best 'tool' is to know your customer, know their mobile
data habits and their particular needs and try to match that up.
Mobile is not as much a technology rethink as a consumer
Mobile ad networks are scrambling to deliver on that vision.
"The No. 1 thing is you have to look at it from an audience
perspective, not a platform or handset," said Paran Johar, chief
marketing officer for mobile ad network JumpTap.
It may also be a mistake to look at applications, or apps, as
the main advertising opportunity -- regardless of whether they are
on an iPhone, Android or other device. Like the PC web, the mobile
web is taking advantage of open standards, most notably HTML 5,
which lets advertisers build mobile sites and ads that look like
iPhone-style apps but that can run on more platforms -- and be
consumed by more mobile users.
"Embrace HTML 5 and build out a robust mobile web presence,"
recommends Marcus Startzel, senior vice president of sales for
Millennial Media. "That way you need only one mobile website that
can be the common denominator and you don't need a separate iPhone
or Android or Blackberry app." Also likely to emerge in mobile --
especially given the wealth of different types of targeting data
available -- are a variety of exchange and data players, which will
help bring both further liquidity to mobile as well as enable
brands to make more sophisticated ad buys.
For instance, start-up Mobclix works with about 25 different ad
networks to help buyers make keyword or geo-targeted mobile-ad
buys, said co-founder, Krishna Subramanian.