2012: A Mobile Odyssey

Now Serving Mobile"Now Serving Mobile" is a column focused on the audience-buying opportunity in mobile advertising.

Elizabeth Zalman is co-Founder at Media Armor, a mobile advertising technology company.

"The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward." - Winston Churchill

Mobile display advertising has yet to achieve the gains made by Online. A brief study of online’s history allows us to target why. Moreover, it provides a concrete approach for new growth in the Mobile space.

At the beginning of Online display, Publishers decided to monetize their sites with advertising; some inventory was direct-sold, and remnant was offloaded to ad networks. Initial integrations with networks were server-side. As technology and needs evolved for both the Supply and Demand sides, integrations had to be updated to client-side in order to support these new requirements, with the focus pivoting away from technical targeting and towards the unique individual. This onerous change led to a cataclysmic shift in the way display was bought and sold, providing 1st-party information (site visits, searches, etc) to drive ID-level decisioning. It was foundational to the amazing advances of the online space, including RTB, the advent of SSPs, and Publisher reclamation of ad space ownership, to name a few. The roots of this rebirth are firmly grounded in the move from server-side to client-side inventory integrations. [Note: RTB is a server-side integration. However, for ID-level targeting (e.g. remarketing), matching between systems first occurs client-side from the inventory partner in order to create the link between client and server, and then all further communication with respect to bidding occurs between servers. The client-side ping is vital towards identifying that unique vs. using audience-like 3rd-party targeting parameters.]

Despite similar beginnings, Mobile has yet to capitalize on the growth potential that Online enjoys. In Mobile, network integrations with Publishers also began server-side due to challenges with data speeds (client -> cell tower -> server was much slower than server -> server) and device fragmentation (lack of support for client side scripting with less advanced devices). A byproduct of this integration was that Networks weren’t able to create 3rd-party IDs client-side, and IDs were instead based on carrier-supplied information (dependency), IPs (multiple consumers would sit behind the same access point), or, in some cases, IDs provided by Publishers themselves (often inconsistent in terms of methodology and support). Server-side integrations capture information in the form of targeting parameters including 3rd-party data appends, head-of-household demos from carriers, and devices, to name a few. While Mobile does well in technical targeting, it has yet to learn from Online’s move to target at the ID-level.

At one point, technological limitations were a reasonable excuse but the massive increase in data speeds, proliferation of smartphones, and adoption of HTML5 have opened new doors. The ability to integrate client side and upgrade existing integrations is now entirely possible. The failure of Mobile to pursue this leaves it regarded as a standalone, instead of as a complement to existing Online display efforts. It is also causing Mobile-specific companies founded long ago to lose ground to new entrants whose roots come from in the web world.

We can borrow directly from Online to find a resolution. Specifically, we should aim to evolve the mobile space away from its technical origins and towards the ID-level, moving from server to client-side. This shift has two major implications. First, it would solve the larger growth challenge facing the industry by aligning it more precisely with how companies approach display online. If the Demand side doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel in a mobile approach, dollars would flow more readily. Second, the shift would break down barriers between the two types of display. Mobile and Online would be approached as Digital, thus driving their full unification.

The move to a unified, Digital landscape would be a major milestone for display advertising. ID-level’s promise means being able to touch a consumer whenever relevant, no matter what medium they’re interacting with. This means in-store, Mobile, and Online. With mobile’s introduction, we discovered the roving link between the Internet and the consumer, and it is waiting for its maturation that hinders us from the ultimate multi-channel marketing.


Your Ever-Progressive Digital Display Woman

Follow Media Armor (@mediaarmor) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


  1. Liz, isn't this over-simplifying the challenges associated with the transition? I would postulate that people like you and me, etc. would have already done most of this except for technological challenges you don't mention: Draconian cookie policies by vendors.

    I hate to say this (because it means I am old), but I was in online advertising prior to the existence of cookies. Maintaining state of any sort was a nightmare, much less tracking people across visits to a site or across multiple sites. Some of the issues are exaggerated with cookies, but there is no denying that user tracking in mobile is difficult. For networks and SSPs to aid a publisher in monetization using user-targeting to generate lift, they need access to unique identifiers that can be unified across data and inventory sources.

  2. Brent! For sure there are massive hurdles towards transitioning integrations, but I firmly believe it's an absolute requirement to move from server to client-side, or we can't even begin to have a discussion about homogenization of IDs.

  3. But how do we loop in the platform providers (Apple/Google)? They seem like the people that have to lay the groundwork, just as inventing and implementing the cookie standard was driven by browser vendors in the display world, not the advertising crowd.

    No one likes to hear from the advertising people what they want because the browser people are 100% consumer focused, much like the platform providers.


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