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Mobile Fix - February 26

As weary folk arrive back from Barcelona it’s a good time to take stock on where we are on mobile. Mobile World Congress seemed to be an event for a reasonably mature industry. It’s no longer all about potential and one day in the future. There is lots of positive news and some potentially significant developments – especially around VR which dominated the coverage. And there is evidence of this maturity elsewhere this week;

 

Right now over half of UK ecommerce happens on mobile devices – although tablets still outperform smartphone so there is room for improvement

 

Right now people are much more likely to read their national newspaper of choice on mobile than desktop – in fact in nearly all the cases the digital reach is higher than the print reach. Again – more to do as so few of the brands advertising in the print newspapers stand out in the mobile editions. At the risk of repeating myself I am staggered that agency planners - and their clients – are willing to pay £10s of 000s for full page ads but often don’t seem to be in the mobile editions at all.

 

Right now you can get real competitive advantage by doubling down on mobile and social, as the chances are the other brands in your sector are under investing.

 

Ad blocking

 

But it’s not all good news. Shine demonstrated their PR chops by making the Three announcement just before MWC then arguing with everyone they could in Barcelona.

 

One could argue that, for all their headlines, Shine are not doing that well. They have just one customer deploying their tech – in Jamaica. For their MWC coup they have persuaded a company owned by their investors (Hutchison) to begin trials with a small group of customers over the next few months. Hardly a call to arms is it? There doesn’t seem to be any urgency on the part of Operators to rush into ad blocking.

 

And even if they did, just how much effect will they have? A huge proportion of mobile time is now on WiFi so that won’t be affected. Facebook, Twitter and most apps aren’t affected. And it’s debatable whether native ads will be blocked.

 

We also don’t know quite what users will see when ads are blocked – will Shine extort money from big brands to have their ads shown, as market leader Adblock Plus currently does? So will anyone actually notice the difference?

 

But consumers do have an issue with bad ads and overly intrusive tracking. And they would welcome a drop in their mobile bills too. Hence the interest in ad blocking around the world.

 

So we shouldn’t ignore this. Yet what has the industry done in the year or so this has been a hot topic? Has any brand come out and said they will stop using pop ups and interstitials? Have any agencies stood up and said they wont utilize tracking that demonstrably slows down page loads?

 

Industry veteran Marco Bertozzi points out that Shine keep being invited to industry events? What’s the point of that? Lets use the events to celebrate the people doing the good ads.

 

We are in a hole and we need to stop digging. If everyone reading Fix decided today that they are going to stop running bad ads and ensure new activity is better, the problem would start to recede. And the nice thing is, doing the right thing like this will almost certainly improve your results.

 

As you know we’re into quotes. JFK said All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.

 

Marco also makes the point that it doesn’t help to have traditional media, and the more traditional agencies, using ad blocking – along with fraud and viewability – as an argument to diminish the move to digital. This Traditional Media Taliban has a nostalgia for how things used to be and a desire to go back to a medieval era when things were just simpler.

 

Modern Media

 

Considering the reluctance of brands to spend on mobile news and the imminence of ad blocking, it seems counter intuitive to think media businesses have a future.

 

But we are fascinated by how new ways of combining news and opinion are emerging and some new players are doing really well. Quartz has been covered here before. The success of Medium is well documented, although some of the tropes risk becoming tiresome. IRL there is a resurgence of great magazines – excellent writing, good photography and a high standard of printing. Although their low print runs and high cover prices minimises reach, they feel like some sort of a Print equivalent of programmatic – surgical focus on distribution to reach discreet audiences with highly relevant content.

 

But the very definition of Modern Media is Buzzfeed. Still sometimes characterized (and castigated) as cat videos and listicles, Buzzfeed now creates a wide range of good content. They even partner with the BBC on investigative journalism – as well as being a major player in news, recipe videos and lists quizzes and cat videos. This long read about their business and their ambition to be around for a long time is a must read.

 

Their strength is their distribution. As other publishers come to terms with sharing their content through Instant Articles on Facebook, Apple News and Accelerated Mobile Pages with Google, Buzzfeed already publish as much as 75% of their content outside their site. And they have become very good at measuring how their content is consumed; this look at how they use data - from their Publisher – is also a must read. Their GIF that charts their evolution as a publisher says everything about the business – how style and content are a crucial combination.

 

The influence of Buzzfeed is also felt through its alumni. Jon Steinberg left Buzzfeed for the MailOnline where he over saw huge growth and he now has a start up called Cheddar, focused on bringing the Buzzfeed way of doing things to the finance news sector with live video from the New York Stock exchange. We believe this new approach to content will be applied to many sectors over the next couple of years. The ability for anyone to now publish their content on Facebook Instant Articles – and retain the ad revenue –makes such a move potentially really lucrative and its something we are very focused on.

 

Messaging & bots

 

Amongst all the talk of bots on messaging apps we think the headlines about Facebook allowing ads onto FB Messenger are not quite accurate. Rather than a broadcast message the commercial presence on FB Messenger will be restricted to brands messaging people who have been in contact with them – on FB Messenger. As Techcrunch explains this is a form of CRM rather than classic advertising.

 

It’s a smart way for Facebook to monetise the dialogue between brands and their customers that Facebook want to encourage. Lots more to come on this but we do see that businesses servicing their customers within Messenger will blend in commercial messages too. And if you do this well, it’s great for both the brand and the customer.

 

Some interesting thinking about whether bots are a feature or a product – we see them as an essential product for a brand that probably needs to be on a wide variety of messaging platforms. The challenge for a new messaging platform is whether they can motivate businesses to deploy with them. It is only now that Android has the range of apps from key brands and content providers that mean someone can switch from iOS and not risk missing out. Will we see a similar arc on messaging? This Vice look at bots is also interesting

 

And next will be an evolution from typing chat to chatting chat. Voice is working so well on Siri and Google these days and the Echo – our one has now arrived   - shows how natural voice is as an interface. Baidu have been innovating with voice for a while and are now seeing their work being used to enable people to interact with their Chinese search service.

 

Location

 

The key piece of data that is - arguably - unique to mobile is location. Used properly this is a powerful tool and with my friends at Tamoco we’re exploring it’s potential.

 

In Barcelona this week Google had a cool demonstration of their indoor mapping tool Tango. And another good Google project is the ability to determine the location from any photograph. Few people have focused on location in the way Foursquare have and they have a new research service that can be used on any digital campaign to measure footfall to stores etc.

 

It’s this sort of potential that makes people so excited about location - knowing where someone has spent time is a valuable data point and being able to motivate and measure visits to somewhere is valuable too. One interesting use case are the hundreds of brands with limited distribution – say just Asda or only certain categories of Tesco. These brands have never had marketing support but now a clever use of location can identify potential buyers and drive a smart programmatic ad campaign. Watch this space.

 

Quick Reads

 

Time are rumoured to be one of the businesses looking at Yahoo as a possible buy

 

10 breakthrough technologies – a good MIT feature

 

Instagram have 200k advertisers – lots of small brands are getting great results from it

 

Search is still hugely important in this mobile world and there is lots going on at Google. AMPs are designed to improve the mobile browsing experience and look likely to do well in mobile searches as a result.

 

The lefthand column of paid search results that drove the money machine for Google is no more – all the ads now sit in the same column as the organic results – 4 above and 3 below – so now just 7 ads on a page rather than 11. Making desktop search more like mobile.

 

This is some insight into AMPs from the Google Head of News

 

The new Facebook like emojis are here. As well as improving the user experience, the more granular data that results from having 6 reactions rather than 1 will be hugely valuable.

 

VR was very big at MWC but there wasn’t that much real news. This is an interesting look at how glasses that connect to our smartphones will take VR mainstream. We still think a simple holder like Google CardBoard – winner of best app as MWC – will be the driver.

 

This video of new Robots from Google owned Boston Dynamics has been widely shared. The surprising thing for us is the instant sympathy we felt when the robot was pushed over.

 

Finally despite a number of WPP companies doing sterling work on mobile it’s a little disappointing to hear their boss ‘explain’ the under investment in mobile (versus the time spent) as an issue with measurement.

 

“We’re increasingly looking at data and measurement. And measurement is going to become absolutely critical. Our frenemies in technology – the new media owners – are going to have to spend more-and-more time thinking about how they can refine [proof of] ROI for our clients,”

 

I’d argue that it’s far easier to measure the impact of mobile and digital than it is press – the category where there is now a significant overspend versus time spent.

 

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