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Though 2012 showed promise, it was clear that no brand had yet to create a compelling experience in the mobile space.
The so-called 'year of mobile', almost a cliché at this point, turned out to be anything but.
In my conversations last year with agency and brand leaders, I heard a constant refrain: “We know brands need to be on mobile, but no one is leading the way. Can you help us with a mobile product strategy?”
Convergence is needed because the mobile-related needs of brands, consumers, and publishers are very different.
For instance, you might have heard eBay’s president of global marketplaces Devin Wenig, in an interview with All Things D last month, explain that his company was unhappy with how its mobile ads cluttered smaller screens and proved distracting to users. He revealed eBay's plans to eliminate ads within its mobile applications next year.
And you know what? Devin is spot on. Until now, the dominant format for mobile ads has been banners, the very format we worked so hard to move beyond in the first place. Our industry has come full circle and not for the better.
We’ve taken strategies from TV to the desktop and simply replicated, not iterated, upon them. It makes you wonder if the brand story on mobile even exists. With our industry's current approach, we lost our brand story.
The rising tide of brand lift
So how we can take "the year of mobile" from just another forward-looking cliché to reality in the year ahead? In 2013, you can expect things to change in a big way.
I predict colossal and exciting approaches and here’s why: Mobile spending has shown little increase because we've been unable to clearly demonstrate mobile brand lift. Brands are asking vendors to help them find solutions rather than coming forward with a comprehensive and convergent cross-platform strategy themselves.
It just so happens that a new batch of mobile ad units being studied by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) will do exactly that.
The IAB wants to provide the canvas for the next generation of mobile brand advertising, beginning with its Rising Stars mobile ad units.
Submissions from companies such as AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo were used to create five new units that the IAB believes will increase brand lift and engagement on the mobile space without distracting users or eating up precious screen real estate.
Microsoft's "Mobile Filmstrip" ad unit, for example, allows users to swipe between different panes (like frames of a filmstrip) from within a traditional vertical banner unit.
Others, such as the slide banner and push/pull banner, turn traditional mobile display ads into teasers, enticing users to interact using standard touch-screen gestures to reveal full-screen ad experience.
After October's encouraging results for the IAB's Rising Star display ads, this demonstrated "big lift" across new measurement metrics. I'm optimistic we'll see similar results on the mobile side in 2013.
Star-filled horizons ahead
But what's important to remember about these Rising Star units is that they don't exist in a vacuum. They instead make it easier for brands to create rich, cross-platform experiences that augment and enhance existing digital ad offerings in the mobile space.
For example, when a user opts-in to have an ad fill their phone or tablet’s screen, it opens up all sorts of possibilities not previously available to brands on the mobile space – from voluntary data input to so-called "omnichannel" marketing, where conversations with users can be carried across multiple platforms using similar, albeit platform-tailored ad experiences.
In other words, mobile engagement will not occur in isolation, “but as a larger part of a great understanding of a person's actions," says Millward Brown's Rob Valsler. That’s the sort of convergence that I hope 2013 brings.
What the IAB has presented is a vision of what the optimal mobile space of the future will look like. We believe strongly that the knowledge that companies such as ours have developed, combined with fresh in-content (or "native") ads and branded content, can work within the IAB standards to deliver high value for brand advertisers.
Will this be enough to make 2013 the definitive year of mobile? So much of the industry is aiming to make this happen by combining the success of a compelling brand story, native advertising, contextual relevance on mobile (and filling in what's currently missing), as well as incorporating wider changes that the industry at large demands.