Mobile can grow, but publishers are losing out on revenue

A guest post by Simon Birkenhead, CEO of Axonix, an advertising technology company backed by Telefonica and Blackstone.

Location-based mobile ad
Facebook recently announced its Q3 results and, for many in the industry, the most headline-grabbing statistic was that mobile ads now make up an incredible 66% of the social network’s total advertising revenue.

And yet, I reacted to the announcement with little surprise.

After all, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that mobile advertising is growing at a remarkable rate – especially when you consider there are currently more data connections in the UK than there are people. In August this year, mobile internet usage in the UK overtook desktop, meaning a majority of website visits now come from tablets and smartphones.

In the first half of 2014, mobile advertising in the UK exceeded £700 million – that’s around 20% of all digital ad spend and a whopping 68% growth over 2013. That’s more than radio and cinema advertising combined, and is fast approaching the scale of outdoor advertising.

However, despite this explosive growth of mobile advertising, I believe brands, publishers and consumers are still not being well served by mobile ads, and this is preventing mobile advertising from growing even faster.

Facebook, it seems, has done a great job at figuring out how to best present ads within their users’ mobile newsfeeds. However, most publishers I speak with say they invest a tiny fraction of their time thinking about how to optimise their own users’ mobile ad experiences. This is despite some publishers admitting they now see close to 50% of their traffic from mobile devices.

Facebook mobile ads

App developers also continue to stick rigidly to the tiny banner ad rather than exploring more engaging, and valuable, alternatives such as video and full-screen interstitials. Throw in the fact that mobile ads are often poorly targeted and it is no wonder brands struggle to find success through mobile.

So how to get it right? The winners will ultimately be those publishers who can provide a platform where brands can run engaging mobile ads that reach the right person with a super relevant message at the right time. On mobile this is even more critical, and even more difficult to achieve, because of the very mobility inherent in mobile device.

The heavily-touted silver bullet to this challenge – and one of the buzzwords of 2014 throughout all forms of advertising, not just mobile – is programmatic.

Programmatic advertising through ‘ad exchanges’ brings the ability to buy and sell advertising in an automated fashion in real-time, one ad impression at a time.

And it’s struck a real chord.

Publishers and brands alike are embracing programmatic advertising as the primary way business should be conducted. It enables real-time audience targeting at scale, a benefit that’s even more relevant for mobile because of its uniquely personal characteristics. Better targeting means improved ad relevancy, increasing the value for both consumers and advertisers, and delivering a higher price for publishers’ media space.

There are also significant cost efficiencies generated by outsourcing most of the heavy lifting to computer algorithms and reducing the dependency on expensive media buying/sales teams. Unlike the ‘secret sauce’ of ad networks, ad exchanges like Axonix can provide full transparency to both buyer and seller of the media space.

Such immense mobile growth in such a short space of time was always going to bring both challenges and opportunities for app developers and publishers. So now is the time to get equipped with the facts and best practices to capitalise on the opportunities presented by programmatic mobile advertising.

Whether an app or mobile content is free, freemium or paid-for, monetization of mobile ad space through ad exchanges allows publishers to optimise ad revenues whilst slashing costs.

Just as it is inevitable that consumers’ usage of mobile devices will continue to grow, so it is inevitable that marketing budgets will continue to follow those consumer eyeballs.

So get ahead of this disruption. Just as Facebook has rebuilt its entire ad business around mobile, it will be those publishers and app developers that harness the programmatic opportunity and offer a platform for more intelligent mobile advertising who will find themselves in the best stead to capture these budgets in the future.

Simon Birkenhead is CEO of Axonix, a leading mobile ad exchange that helps mobile publishers to maximize their ad revenues. He has 20 years experience in digital marketing, mobile advertising and business management, the majority of which has been within high tech companies at the cutting edge of their industries.

He has launched three digital advertising start-ups, including Axonix, and was the first hire into Google’s Global Agencies Team in 2008, establishing this as the benchmark sales team for engagement at global exec level with the Big 6 advertising agency groups.

Simon is a mentor and Board advisor to a number of new technology companies and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including Mobile World Congress, Festival of Media and Ad:Tech.

(Starbucks image: via Forbes; Facebook ads image: Facebook via Wired)