Jumptap, Mobext, and Razorfish Talk Ad Strategy at Mobile Media Upfront

The rabbit-like spread of smartphones and tablets offers marketers a personal way to reach consumers, but the industry is still sorting out how best to harness this platform. Much like the rise of online advertising, caution and curiosity framed the early days of mobile advertising. Brands might push ads or apps on to smartphones, but that does not mean consumers will buy products, even if they click on the ads.

Paran Johar, the chief marketing officer of Cambridge, MA-based mobile advertising firm Jumptap, spoke with Xconomy recently about the heightened expectations for his industry as companies want to see tangible results from their investments. “Mobile is quickly becoming the first screen,” he said, citing a belief that smartphones and tablets may eventually trump televisions as the first point of contact that publishers and advertisers have with consumers.

Johar founded the daylong Mobile Media Upfront annual conference held on Tuesday in New York at the Helen Mills Center. The conference focuses on ways to commercialize mobile advertising and brought out some 500 attendees and speakers from companies such as Nokia, Condé Nast, and Razorfish. Johar points out that mobile technology is increasingly part of daily life, making it a crucial marketing platform for media, online, and other industries. “For not only [companies such as] ESPN, E! [Entertainment Television], and Facebook, over 50 percent of their traffic is coming from mobile devices,” he said.

Based on such broad adoption of mobile devices, Johar said, advertisers see the medium as a means to deliver more interactive marketing than television ads can offer. “With mobile, you are very actively engaged,” Johar said, which may help marketers combat indifference from the busy public. “A consumer’s appetite for irrelevant advertising is very diminished,” he said.

What’s more, measuring the effectiveness of mobile ads, he said, goes beyond the old barometer of reporting click-through rates when consumers see digital ads. Now companies increasingly want to monitor deeper layers of information such as customer acquisition costs, the cost per download, and post-click paid views. “All these brand metrics are becoming standardized across the mobile advertising ecosystem,” he said.

The growing attention on mobile advertising has led to new collaborations among advertisers and technology companies. During the conference, speaker B. Bonin Bough, vice president of global media and consumer engagement for Kraft Foods, said his company is working with Microsoft and Nokia in a mobile innovations lab. The goal of the partnership, announced in late February, is to help Kraft better take advantage of marketing across multiple channels including mobile. “With Nokia and Microsoft I get [access to] Xbox, I get desktop, mobile, and TV,” Bough said.

More advertising dollars are being shifted to mobile, he said, to explore novel ideas such as the use of apps to reach consumers. Kraft’s iFood Assistant mobile app, for example, helps users create a shopping list with cooking tips. The app also highlights Kraft’s products that can be purchased for use in recipes.

Such consumer interaction and relevance is essential in mobile marketing. During a panel discussion at the conference, Todd Thiessen, vice president of strategy for ad agency Razorfish in New York, said companies are no longer satisfied with simply getting the word out about their brands. Whether or not a flashy mobile campaign drives sales is more vital than consumers talking about the ads. “Expectations have moved from buzz worthy to business worthy,” he said.

To that end, media outlets such as The Weather Channel Companies, Condé Nast Media Group, and IGN Entertainment spoke at the conference about ways they are engaging the mobile audience. Scott Bender, vice president of sales and business development for IGN, said about 20 to 25 percent of the audience that consumes his company’s digital content gets it through mobile channels. “It’s a little bit higher within our AskMen property but it’s certain we’re seeing a trend that is growing,” he said.

IGN owns websites such as GameSpy, which is aimed at video gamers, in addition to men’s lifestyle site AskMen. Bender said mobile offers new opportunities to curate content and make lasting impressions for game developers who may get lost in a crowded, competitive field. The advent of mobile gaming, he said, may also change purchasing trends among consumers. Video games for consoles and computers tend to cost $60 each but mobile games offer access to entertainment at much lower prices. “It’s different with mobile gaming,” he said. “It’s 99 cents or $2, many times it’s free.”

Conference panelist Sarah Amitay, vice president and director of mobile marketing for Mobext in Boston, said many of her company’s clients now look to mobile as a standard part of their advertising strategies and want to evaluate how the medium contributes to sales. (Mobext is a branch of France’s Havas Digital.)

Amitay said while mobile plays a growing role in social media and Web searches, clients are sometimes surprised by the medium’s influence. “Over 20 percent of all search on Google is happening on mobile phones,” she said. “[Companies] have woken up to the reality and are excited but a little scared.”

She cautioned that while some brands may be eager to create their own apps to engage the mobile audience, their objectives with the technology need to be clear. “What utility are you providing to your target audience over time?” she asked. Given the rampant influx of new apps, it can be easy to get lost in the masses, making such an investment not worthwhile. “Unless there is some distinct value over time, an app strategy is not for you,” she said.

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