Mobile Advertising: Apple, Google, And The Mobile Operators

Following its acquisition of Quattro Wireless for $275,000,000, Apple has just announced the launch of iAd, its mobile advertising platform (see my colleague’s take here). Adding the $750,000,000 that Google is ready to invest in AdMob (the deal is still under FCC scrutiny), the two most disruptive new mobile entrants have invested more than $1 billion — a clear signal that mobile advertising has long-term potential. The main difference between Google and Apple is that Apple is only just entering the advertising business, while Google’s entire business model simply IS advertising. However, that potential has yet to be realized. Does that mean stakeholders can generate significant revenues in the short term and that operators will be bypassed once again? I have read in various places some strange comments suggesting that Google’s mobile ad revenue share with mobile operators would be a way to finance network evolution. Just compare the cost of a base station and the significant investment required to finance 4G with absolute mobile advertising revenues and you’ll quickly figure out for yourself that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. This is more of an online advertising discussion around the Net neutrality debate (remember France Telecom’s CEO warning that he was not “building freeways for Californian cars”!) but it will crop up later for mobile.

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Raising The Bar on Mobile Advertising: Apple's OS 4

Apple announced iAd today as part of their OS 4 program today. I speculated in this post on why they purchased Quattro Wireless a few months ago, but now we have more details. This post is on iAd only - my colleague Charles Golvin has a more complete analysis in his post.

First, looks like Apple will leverage Quattro's business model and use their sales force to sell ads. This should work early on for large buys.

They are continuing to be very supportive of their developer community with 60% of the ad revenue going to the developers. Not a lot of details now, but this could be generous. Part of the revenue needs to go to the sales team as well. There will be less leftover for Apple. Models such as Admob's have more of a self-serve model that have the potential to be more cost-effective especially with smaller buys. The types of companies that will have the budgets to develop interactive ads that take full advantage of the platform - accelerometer and location plus rich media - will have the budget to spend on media as well - not just on the creative.

Beyond developers, Apple is continuing their focus on the consumer experience. They are looking to protect the quality of the user experience by controlling the ad experience. Steve has raised the bar on quality of mobile ads by keeping consumers within their existing application or experience. He anticipates that the ads will be engaging enough to be considered entertainment.

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Why are folks so interested in Apple's ad inventory?

It has the potential to be more valuable than inventory on many phones.

Why?

People who own smartphone devices are more active on their cell phones than your typical cell phone owner. For simpler tasks like SMS, they are moderately more active. For more complex tasks such as shopping, using maps, banking or doing product research they are significantly more active. iPhone users are some of the most active smartphone users when it comes to commerce-related activities.

Advertisers have held back on spending more on mobile marketing for many reasons. One of the primary reasons has been their inability to demonstrate the effectiveness of the medium or calculate an ROI. It gets a lot easier to calculate the ROI when consumers are buying items or using services such has mobile banking to deposit checks. Consumers are spending real money. My colleague Sucharita Mulpuru will be working on a mobile commerce forecast later this year. Anecdotally, we saw consumers spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars with individual merchants/hotels/restaurants in 2009. We're likely to see run rates in the low millions for a few companies within a few industries by the end of this year.

The more consumers spend, the more advertisers will be motivated to spend. Consumer product and service companies will invest in mobile services such as "find the nearest," consumer reviews, available inventory, etc. to support commerce-related activities. The greater the supply of services (of great services), the more adoption and usage we'll see among consumers. Then consumers will spend more because the experiences will be convenient - it'll be easy to buy books or toothpaste.

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