dancing-with-the-ad-networks-sm.jpgVerizon, FOX Take on Additional Sales Partners as US Mobile Ad Inventory Glut Continues.

Millennial Media recently announced an agreement with Verizon Wireless which allows the ad network to begin selling a portion of the carrier’s on deck mobile ad inventory. Prior to this move, AOL’s Third Screen Media was the only third party repping Verizon Wireless inventory. It is believed that Third Screen will continue to sell a portion of Verizon’s on deck ad inventory as well as act as the carrier’s primary ad server.

In a similar move, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based mobile ad network (and white-label search provider) JumpTap announced that had signed deals to sell the mobile ad inventory of both NBC Universal and FOX’s Mobile Entertainment Network (which includes Jamba, as well as mobile extensions of FOX programs such as Family Guy and 24). Millennial Media currently is FOX’s exclusive third party sales partner for all FIM mobile sites, such as mySpace mobile, FOX Sports and rottentomatoes.com.

All these moves would be enough to drive media planners crazy, if only they were paying attention – and therein lies the heart of problem. With well more than half of mobile ad inventory going unsold over any given period, its no wonder publishers are feeling a little antsy about the ability of their sales partners to close the deal. And why aren’t buyers buying? That’s really the question, and we’ve a hunch the publishers wont find relief simply be adding additional sales partners.

For our friends on the supply side of the mobile advertising market, we offer the following advice:

  1. First, you must accept that you are selling a niche media product – a situation that probably will continue for the next three years at a minimum. This means stop with the “reach story.” Stop telling buyers that “over 250 million US consumers own mobile phones” and start with a more sophisticated segmentation strategy that tells buyers that you can efficiently deliver a specific audience against their specific needs. You’ve already got a solid out-of-home story, but why not do what the niche cable nets and magazines do – start by investing in some real research that shows how your audience indexes against specific product categories (MRI would be a good start).
  2. Second, try really experimenting with pricing models other than CPM. Sure, AdMob and a few others have brought text-based CPC inventory to market, but what about getting bold and offering up display-based CPC inventory as well? This will do much to alleviate the inherent risk that buyers must accept in your untested and unproven form of media, and with most of your impressions going unsold month after month you have very little to lose. What’s more, if we’re to believe that mobile click-thrus are really averaging over 2%, then surely you wouldn’t mind putting your numbers on the line with a model that pays out based on campaign performance?
  3. Finally, get togther with each other and figure out a way to track uniques across all publishers, ad networks and carriers. Without this, there is no way your media fits into an (even soft) reach/frequency model – the backbone of modern media planning. Saddle up and get it together. You can’t blame media buyers for this one…

Of course, blame cannot be lopped only on the supply side of the equation. Our friends on the buying side have their work cut out for them as well:

  1. Stop complaining about the “unattractiveness” of existing mobile ad units. Sure, mobile banners are small – but that’s not the point. When viewed as a percentage of the screen they actually are quite reasonably-sized. Hold your phone up to your face (as one does when one browses the mobile web) and it will take on the prominence of a 65″ plasma. Unfortunately mobile is just too new a medium to start messing about with seriously interruptive forms of advertising. Waiting for Verizon to approve that full screen “roadblock” ad unit? Don’t hold your breath.
  2. Take the time to understand what’s really out there. Shaken by rumors of $50 mobile CPMs? You might be surprised to learn that quality mobile display inventory can be had for under $5. Still not happy with mobile ad banners? Well, folks like Greystripe have full screen units for sale, and there are plenty of content integration options with the likes of Buzzd, UpSnap and Free-411. These guys are simply dying to meet you and tell you about what they’re got for sale, so do everyone a favor and put aside 30 minutes a week to meet with them. Get smart on the mobile publishing side and your clients may just reward you.
  3. Finally, challenge the publishers and ad networks to craft real solutions to your clients business objectives. This means sharing (some) information on what you’re trying to accomplish on the media side in terms of strategy, reach and intended action. Too often media salespersons are simply left guessing as to what value their product can add a larger media plan. Is it any wonder they often fall short? I know from experience that these media sales people are a very creative, sharp and hardworking sort. Give them the information they need to succeed and they just might surprise you with a program that makes you both look like rock stars.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we’re more than comfortable with the concept that the more things stay the same, the more mobile advertising will stagnate.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and continue the conversation.

millennial media upsnap logoUpSNAP, a provider of SMS / VoIP-based mobile search and streaming mobile audio products, has announced a deal with mobile advertising firm Millennial Media. Under the terms of the deal Millennial Media (along with nine other partners) will have access to UpSNAP’s mobile search and streaming audio inventory for resale to advertisers and/or their media buying agencies.

The back half of 2007 was a busy one for UpSNAP, merging with animated greeting card provider Mobile Greetings in September and announcing a partnership with mobile search pioneer Go2 in November. With all this activity it’s difficult to get a sense of where UpSNAP is headed, but it appears the firm is rapidly moving towards an ad-supported content aggregation play (with the advertising sales function outsourced to third parties). By providing Go2 with time-sensitive mobile audio content (think audio news clips, like what you’d get from a syndicated news radio program), UpSNAP is essentially acting as a content provider to Go2’s local-focused, mobile search engine. Similarly, providing tying up with Ad Networks such as Millennial reinforces this position, as UpSNAP attempts to outsource the ad sales function of their search and streaming audio products so that they can focus more clearly on content aggregation (in this case, the content is mobile search queries and audio streams). The Mobile Greetings merger only further reinforces this position, as the deal wraps up UpSnap with a high-quality, ad/sponsorship-based mobile content provider.

Analysis: It remains to be seen what (if anything) will ultimately become of such agreements. As stated in reactions to similar announcements, the real challenge in the mobile advertising value chain isn’t in the aggregation of mobile inventory, it’s the actual sales of said inventory… and it would appear if UpSNAP’s inventory were truly valuable they would be able to achieve sell out with their existing nine mobile advertising partners (and therefore wouldn’t be looking to additional mobile ad firms – such as Millennial – to partner up with). That said, in all fairness to UpSNAP… their need for (yet another) mobile ad sales partner likely speaks more to the nascent state of the mobile advertising market than does to the quality of UpSNAP’s inventory.