Mobile Ad Delivery Gets a Whole Lot Simpler

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

Bob Walczak is VP Mobile Product at Pubmatic.

Mobile is a massively fragmented market, making a simple action like delivering a static banner ad a fairly involved process today. At this point we have figured out the basics. When an ad server receives the request for an ad from a mobile phone it reads the browser header, looks it up in a device database of over 10,000 devices, determines screen height, width, carrier (only 1 of a 1000), OS, resolution, placement size, does it handle script or no script, location (if you have an opt-in), targeting with no cookies, and then boom sends back an ad in response across a Wi-Fi or 3G carrier network.

I’m over simplifying this, but the point is it’s working today. But, when it comes to rich media ad delivery, we are still talking about a painful, often broken process with advertisers uncertain that their best creative will actually run on the publishers they choose. Problems like this are keeping brands and agencies from fully embracing the potential of mobile ads. I want to stop hearing “the ads are too small and too boring” and start hearing: “wow, the ads are dynamic and with mobile, you get consumer focus and unsurpassed location capabilities!”

There are now market standards that make delivering mobile ads easier and more scalable. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) started the process by defining standard ad unit sizes, with four initial sizes (small, medium, large & extra-large). As the market grew, the IAB jumped in and collaborated with the MMA and defined their standard. Now the IAB is moving further to evolve these standards and now supports the Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definition (MRAID). The key here is that as with all standards, adoption is needed -- there was a standard called ORRMA which pre-exisited MRAID, however it was too open and lacked the structure needed to make it a standard. It has now been abandoned by the IAB in favor of MRAID.

What MRAID Is: The Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface is a standard for developing an SDK for mobile applications so that rich media providers can build to its spec and have their ads work correctly on all devices, both apps and the mobile web. MRAID 1 covered the basics and now the MRAID 2 spec is out for review and comment, anticipated to be released in full by mid October. MRAID 2 is a huge leap forward, from an ad functionality perspective. MRAID-compliant ads work on apps and can take over the screen upon user initiation, play videos – involve just about any form of interaction you might expect from an online rich media ad -- plus call up unique phone functionality. And since they are written to a standard, advertisers can get the scale of publishers and platforms that even the much vaunted iAd was not able to achieve.

Once you build your SDK to the MRAID standard, the industry doesn’t all just fall in line. It is still recommended that you test all of the rich media ad units provided by rich media vendors. The next step is accommodating non-standard / non MRAID compliant ad formats. There are two ways to do this. In the early days, before standards like MRAID, the approach was wrapping multiple SDK’s into a single SDK. The two major disadvantages of this approach is a very heavy SDK and multiple points of failure…i.e. if something breaks, you don’t know which wrapped SDK broke it. The current approach is to incorporate the functionality of each “unique” ad unit into your SDK as a file, giving the app provider flexibility to select the network and rich media vendors that suit them best.

As most app providers have issues supporting SDK’s and even more issues supporting multiple SDK’s, MRAID has reduced a lot of pain for app developers. If an app developer has already integrated an MRAID SDK into its app, another way, and preferred by most app developers, is to work with them as a 3rd party vendor and integrate via API. Leveraging an API to write to the SDK enables easy integration for demand partners giving a faster path to monetization for the app developer.

Overall the mobile ecosystem is moving forward finally, following some trends from online display and charting some new ground. eMarketer revised its mobile ad spending projections upwards this summer and noted in August that it will have year-over-year growth of 96.6% to $2.29 billion in 2012, up from $1.16 billion. In 2013, the US mobile ad market will surpass even the hyper sophisticated mobile market of Japan. The long-term question is whether SDK’s will be needed in the future to deliver those ads seamlessly across app, or whether apps become nothing more than HTML5 visual bookmarks as the programming of all of digital media shifts to this new standard.

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