As many had predicted, Apple announced the launch of its iAd Network last week with all the requisite fanfare and Google bashing. The announcement left many people in the industry buzzing about, asking a variety of questions, many of which remain unanswered. Will this be a game-changer for mobile advertising? Will Apple be able to re-create an iPhone-like user experience on non-Apple devices? What will be the impact of HTML-5 for ad agency personnel who use Flash today? And how can Steve Jobs claim that mobile ads “suck?” Let’s take a closer look at these questions.
Do Mobile Ads Really “Suck?”
For the most part, I have to agree with Mr. Jobs’ Jobs assertion about the poor state of today’s mobile ads. The current mobile ad networks are flooding the device with irrelevant advertising that is not only annoying, but also lacks the engaging user experience necessary for in-app advertising. Apple’s iAd platform solves some of the problems in mobile ads by looking at HTML-5 as a standard for ad rendering, thereby keeping the user within the app, and providing a homogeneous ad experience, regardless of the device orientation changes. That’s a big step in the right direction. Even though there are issues with HTML-5 ad creation (as we’ll discuss), it’s nice to see a major player in the industry address the insanity that prevails in the market.
OS Is the Ad Platform
The fact is that a device manufacturer can provide a better user experience than any other advertising vendor or network simply because the OS knows how to deliver a superior user experience on the device. Apple started the trend, which I’m sure will be followed by Google, BlackBerry, Nokia and every other handset OEM under the sun. But, the most important factor is uniformity of ad experience across devices. Can Apple recreate the same user experience on non-Apple devices, or will they only sell iPhone/iPod/iPad inventory?
If it’s revealed that Apple will only offer ads on its own popular mobile platforms, we’ll certainly hear cries about an unfair advantage that the industry giant wields over all other players – a debate that Washington, D.C. , will monitor closely, I’m sure. Only time will tell.
HTML-5 – The New Standard for Ad Creative?
The de-facto standard for creating ads in the industry today is Adobe/Flash tools. Ad agencies will need to invest a significant amount of money to recreate these Flash ads in HTML-5 for mobile platforms, which is going to take ages. To my knowledge, there are no easy ad creation tools for HTML-5 ads today. Even if there is one, what is the guarantee that the same HTML-5 ad will work on non-Apple devices? It seems that Apple is taking on the Herculean task of trying to change the ways of the entire mobile ad industry with a minute global market share of phones. (50 million Apple devices out of a global 4 billion phones is 1.25 percent.)
And, of course, we can’t forget the dreaded 3.3.1 clause in the iPhone 4.0 developer agreement, which essentially burns the bridge between the iPhone, Android and PC programming. The 3.3.1 clause is a huge hindrance for any app developer who uses Flash app conversion tools. It will be interesting to see if Steve Jobs would apply the same 3.3.1 rule for converting Flash ads to HTML-5. If so, it will make Jobs’ supposed comments on Adobe being “lazy” appear hypocritical at best if agencies find it difficult to create HTML-5 ads.
How Will Advertisers Verify Ad Spend on Apple Devices?
Add the clause 3.3.9 of the iPhone 4.0-developer agreement to the mix, which expressly prohibits the app from sharing device data or user data with third-party networks. Is Apple shooting itself in the foot by shutting the doors on independent third-party ad verification needed for advertisers to pump millions of dollars into mobile? If no third-party company can gather this data, which independent ad verification company will they use to justify the advertiser spend for iAd? This kind of control-freak madness will set the mobile marketing industry backward by years and will result in the loss of advertisers’ confidence in mobile.
As the Chinese adage says, we are truly living in interesting times. Never has this phrase rung more true than in today’s mobile marketing industry. Now that Apple has made its move, is it time for Adobe to pull the plug on Flash 2 iPhone conversion tools in response to this slight? And what will be Google’s next step? Time to move from net neutrality to device neutrality debate? Along with everyone else in this industry, I’ll be watching with great interest.
Srini Dharmaji is CEO and founder of GoldSpot Media, which offers interactive rich media and video advertising solutions for mobile apps and Web sites as well as cross-platform app creation tools.