xAd & Rubicon Panel: The Focus for Mobile Must Be Relevance & Creativity

In association with xAd

With MWC just around the corner, Tuesday [16 February] saw a fantastic turnout from the media and marketing world for the 'Future of Mobile' panel event, chaired by Ciaran O’Kane, CEO ExchangeWire. Hosted by xAd and The Rubicon Project with guest speaker Ali Shah, ‎head of technology direction, BBC, along with an esteemed panel, including Liam Pook, mobile director, Essence; Theo Theodorou, GM of EMEA, xAd; Oliver Whitten, SVP Europe, The Rubicon Project, and Daniel Spears, head of response +, The Guardian.

In this piece, Imran Khan (pictured below), head of programmatic & partnerships EMEA, xAd, shares his key takeaways from the event.

‘The Year of Mobile’ has been and gone. With well over two billion smartphone users around the world today, the discussion around mobile needs to move on to address the ‘mobile revolution’, as we explore the true potential of the ubiquitous influence of technology in our day-to-day lives.

Offering far more than the simple, cut-down version of the internet introduced by the first iPhone in 2007, the rise of the app ecosystem, along with the processing power and sophistication of the devices themselves, has led to far richer internet experiences on our mobile than we ever imagined on our PC. Smartphones, for example, tell us precisely where we are, what we are near, and who is close by, enabling all kinds of uses, from local restaurant suggestions, to finding nearby singletons.

This utility paints a clear picture of the relationship and value exchange evolving between marketers and consumers – targeting the right customer in the right place at the right time with the right product or service. The challenge facing brands and publishers, then, is making sure that this value exchange is realised, particularly in the face of growing expectations among consumers for relevant and well-timed content, designed specifically for the mobile experience. The cost of failure is already marked by the rise of ad blockers, with EE’s proposal for an ad-blocking network epitomising the need for change.

After an animated discussion covering the role of ad blocking in driving more dynamic creative content, the role of location data in achieving more precise targeting and the importance of the mobile format in enriching advertising, we summarised the insights from our range of panellists into three core trends:

Imran Khan (1)The rise of ad blockers

“We are delivering dumb ads on smartphones”, began Liam Pook of media agency Essence, pointing out the disparity between what is creatively possible on mobile and the current standard of advertising, which has led to the rise in ad blocking. “For media and marketing professionals, the reaction could be to put our heads in the sand; but the truth is that it’s a new opportunity to rethink the whole way we do creative.”

Meanwhile, Oliver Whitten, The Rubicon Project, saw ad blockers as a cry for the media and marketing sectors to rally together to improve trust among consumers: “It doesn’t matter how good a website or app might be, if the next site a user visits is a terrible ad experience, that person will install an ad blocker. One media owner can’t do it on their own. What is needed is a collective response from the industry to improve trust and understanding when it comes to the value exchange around advertising.”

One of the biggest challenges facing many brands is the continued division of creative and buying agencies, two sides that should intrinsically sit together. If you consider the ecosystem today, we are evolving to look at how we can bring programmatic and creative together, even if we have to do it all under one roof. As Facebook has shown, good data paired with a creative spark means happy customers.

Driving relevance in mobile advertising

The panel shared many ideas on how the use of mobile ad blocking could be stemmed. With 70% of The Guardian’s traffic coming from mobile devices, Daniel Spears believes the solution lies in extracting quality and verified data from mobile: “Sharing data across competitors within the same industry, as The Guardian does through the Pangea-Alliance, for example, allows publishers to achieve far greater precision by tapping into underlying component parts in the data.”

The content delivered to a 21st-century consumer has to be intelligent. For Theo Theodorou, xAd, marketers need to look to unique mobile data points to provide that intelligence. “If you look at mobile you basically need to recreate a desktop’s online cookie, but in the real world. Location serves that purpose. All of a sudden you can map what you’re able to see online in the real world, hence the work we have done to go beyond secondary action rate (SAR), to things like store visitation. Visitation history, coupled with third-party analytics is a huge opportunity.”

Location data has now evolved far beyond its humble origins in Apple and Google Maps to become entrenched in thousands of applications, acting as the glue that connects our online and offline lives. Through location, data can go far beyond just informing where someone is, to define who a person is and what they might be interested in. Unsurprisingly, the Internet Advertising Bureau recently found 66% of marketers see location-based advertising as “the most exciting mobile opportunity”.

Delivering the mobile experience

One area the panel were clearly united on was the need to deliver better mobile experiences. Oliver praised Google’s release of AMP, an open-source project to create mobile-optimised content, as a step in the right direction. Having recently undergone a large device optimisation campaign at The Guardian, Daniel also flagged the importance of reflecting the change in consumer attitudes towards mobile with investment in the user experience.

For Ali Shah of the BBC, delivering what consumers want hinges on video content: “The next five years will see a huge boom in the volume of online traffic, 70% of which will be video content by 2021. It’s a great time to be in the content ecosystem, but standing out from the pack means chasing innovation. This is why, through the BBC Taster section of our site, we’re offering programmes in new formats, such as 360-degree video. This way we can get direct feedback and see if this will take off in the way we imagine.”

Liam also praised 360-degree video and vertical video as two great examples of taking advantage of mobile’s unique capabilities; and, therefore, how mobile advertising will move beyond integrating simple gestures in the future to become fully immersive. “These immersive experiences aren’t often being developed though”, said Liam, “which has a knock-on effect for brands who are trying to balance ad annoyance and effectiveness”.

Theo took it back to what made mobile so successful in the first place: “If we look at the iPhone, for example, it owes its success to the fact that it humanised technology and maintained a brand [over the years] that was led first and foremost by user experience. It’s common sense; make the experience better and more relevant, and everyone wins.”

The panel found a lot of common ground in agreeing what should happen next: as we move into this mobile-led world, relevancy and creativity need to be at the forefront of marketing. Understanding and appealing to a consumer’s single identity – rather than as part of a group which brands mass market to – means getting to grips with the context of your consumer. Understanding context across both online and offline worlds means that now is the time to invest in location – brands that wait will see themselves fall behind as they battle for shopper attention in highly competitive markets.