Audience targeting, measurement and other digital clichés: 4th Screen Advertising’s Sarah Kavanagh on why advertisers demand more on mobile

It has become common to hear ad tech providers speak of how digital advertising is capable of targeting the exact audience that any given brand would like to reach. And nowhere is this more evident than in mobile advertising, where the general sales pitch is based on the premise that brands can benefit from delivering promotional messages to the rectangular devices Kiwis carry in their pockets. 

“Everyone is selling audience, and there are some challenges in terms of cutting through the noise,” says Sarah Kavanagh, the national sales manager at the Kiwi arm of Mobile Embrace’s 4th Screen Advertising (Kavanagh also chairs the mobile council of the IAB).

The promise of targeting specific audiences is something that most of the major digital ad players make, and it is not as persuasive to advertisers as it once was. With the proliferation of ad platforms, advertisers have been given a range of new choices that have made the market more competitive.     

“Some of the issues that we see lie in agencies trusting the ad-platform providers to deliver in terms of what platforms they use, what’s unique about them, how transparent they are and how premium the inventory is,” says Kavanagh. 

The increased level of competition when combined with the fast pace of change in the mobile industry means that ad platforms constantly have to tweak and streamline their offerings to ensure that they are as effective as possible. 

“Innovation is really important,” says Kavanagh. “Which is why we have a team dedicated to looking ahead at the next six or 12 months, and the trends that we’re seeing. And from a tech and a creativity perspective, we’re looking at what we can do to bring mobile-first opportunities to New Zealand brands.”

The latest development to emerge from this in-house team at Mobile Embrace is the Premium Audience Targeting (PAT) product, which enables brands and advertisers to target mobile users in contextually relevant, premium mobile environments.

A common criticism levelled at digital advertising is that it’s overly focused on audiences and does not take the context of an ad into account. Because programmatically served ads follow the audience, there is a risk that an ad might end up on a website or alongside content that isn’t complementary to the brand.

Internationally, The Guardian, CNN International, the Financial Times, Reuters and The Economist have created the Pangea Alliance in a bid to offer a premium programmatic network to advertisers.  

And Kavanagh believes that Mobile Embrace’s new product will similarly rectify this problem in the local market, because it taps into Mobile Embrace’s network of premium publishing partners, which includes NZME, Bauer, the BBC and MetService among others. 

“What the premium audience targeting product allows us to do is utilise our data and couple that with publisher- and third party-provided data, and then overlay that onto our core [ad-selling] business,” she says.

Regardless of the quality of the ad network or the effectiveness of the platform in delivering the right audiences, Kavanagh says that the onus still rests on advertisers to develop effective creative for the channel—and this is an area that continues to be a problem.    

“There is a temptation to take what you’re doing in an online space and resize it for the mobile site, which is not how you would necessarily plan creative when switching between traditional media.”

In much the same way that unique creative is developed for both print and outdoor ads under a single campaign, Kavanagh is of the opinion that creative agencies should be developing bespoke executions for mobile devices.    

“It’s something that we will try to help them with, being mobile specialists,” she says. “Obviously, agencies have a huge task in terms of what they’re trying to do with their brands and what we try to do is make it as easy as possible for them.”

Making it easier for brands to get their ads onto mobile devices is also an important play in terms of growing the category’s share of ad spend. 

As things stand, mobile advertising still only contributes a small proportion of overall ad spend. And while it is growing rapidly, it’s a continuous challenge for the industry to convince new advertisers to shift ad spend to the channel.

“I think one of the challenges we’ve got in the market at the moment is that there’s a huge disparity between time spent on the medium versus the ad dollar that’s being spent,” says Kavanagh. “So it’s a case of finding out how we can accelerate that, so we’re more on par with other countries, such as the Australia, the US and the UK.” 

And mobile embrace isn’t the only organisation pushing a mobile agenda. In a story published earlier this year, Adweek pointed out that mobile ads now account for 69 percent of Facebook’s advertising business—making the social media player a formidable competitor for mobile ad spend. 

“[Competition with Facebook] is the way of the world in terms of looking at other markets, but from our perspective there’s so much more that we can do than just one publisher can in terms of the broad, premium and quality audiences that we bring,” says Kavanagh. “I don’t know of any brands or agencies that are just using one publisher. They are looking for that breadth of scope across a number of portfolios, and that’s obviously an opportunity for us.”

Of all the players in the market, Facebook is arguably one of the most open to change. The company is constantly introducing new elements in an effort to better deliver its advertising solutions. This was evident last year when the company purchased the Atlas platfrom, and it is also reflected in little changes introduced on an almost-weekly basis.   
Innovation is playing a major role in driving mobile adoption, and these days, the argument ‘we can target specific users’ has become something of a cliché sometimes incapable of persuading advertisers to buy into an offering. As data and ad platforms have become more sophisticated so too have the sales pitches coming from the ad tech providers. And with mobile spend expected to burgeon over the next few years, the competition for dollars will only increase. And this means that mobile players—both big and small—will have to continue tinkering with what they offer to keep it attractive to advertisers. 

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