Getting the Mobile Ad Message

After chairing or otherwise participating in more than 20 conferences and workshops across Europe this year-the vast majority of which focused on hot trends in mobile content-I see a subtle yet seismic shift in the way publishers perceive and promote digital assets. The build-and-they-will-come attitude toward the mobile web has been replaced with a new interest in making sure people can find, share, and buy the content they are most likely to desire. More importantly, there is a new enthusiasm around mobile advertising fuelled by success stories of content companies and publishers from around the globe.

This was particularly evident at the Mobile Marketing Forum (MMF) Europe in Berlin, which brings together mobile operators, brands, publishers, and technology enablers, organized by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA). At MMF, content companies-not just mobile-specific brands-took the stage to share lessons learned and showcase best practices.

A company that stood out from the crowd was BBC Worldwide, a pioneer in mobile content whose made-for-mobile site dates back almost a decade. I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in a mobile-specific destination rather than trying to squeeze a website onto a mobile phone. That's a short-term, shortsighted strategy with limited rewards. My discussions with dozens of content company executives prove it's the made-for-mobile websites-ones that recognize the form factors and limitations of mobile devices, the short attention span of people on the move, and the requirement to offer people something valuable after the first click-that provide the basis of sustainable revenues.

The BBC was smart from the start and purposely developed a cross-platform strategy that properly positioned mobile from the get-go. With the content and the platform firmly established, the BBC has made the conscious decision this year to take its content presentation and monetization to a new level, in a bid to become what Tom Bowman, VP strategy and operations for global advertising sales at BBC Worldwide, calls a "Broadcaster 2.0."

In March 2009, BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, began selling advertising on its non-U.K.-based mobile website In just 6 months, the company has shown stellar results. According to Bowman, audiences are receptive to mobile advertising and repeat buyers (that is, people who click on advertising from a brand once, convert, and come back for more) are likewise substantial.
The secret: Be selective.

Rather than bombard people with banner ads from a plethora of deep-pocketed brands, Bowman's team carefully chose to display advertising from brands that fit the target demographic. The site caters to mobile professionals on the move, with advertising from banks, airlines, and coffeehouses. It is even experimenting with country-specific advertising.

Another helpful rule of thumb: In mobile advertising, less is more. As Bowman put it: "It's user first and advertiser second. Print media knew that years ago, and publishers should set limits on the number of ads they show on a page."

Indeed, some mobile sites mistakenly think that the more blinking banners you throw at people, the more likely they are to click through. That approach may work on a PC, but on mobile it's a surefire way to annoy people.

However, the real brilliance of the BBC strategy is not the decision to sell selective mobile advertising; it's the ambition to invest in the search services that will allow BBC to please people in the process. Kudos to the BBC for developing its own search algorithms and IP, but the credit for the service's superior look and feel goes to We Love Mobile, a London-based creative mobile agency that the BBC chose to create a ground-breaking search concept and interface for the broadcaster's mobile content.

While the BBC is predictably tight-lipped about its masterpiece, a road test of the beta version reveals advanced search and discovery, with emphasis on providing highly relevant and personalized content surfacing around the corporation's extensive mobile assets. The search solution also showcases some entirely new content filtering and presentation concepts, as well as a slick, engaging user interface-all of which will now be incorporated into the ambitious search road map for the BBC's spread of mobile internet sites.

The mobile industry has done a great job of creating audience, reach, and new interest in cool content on-the-go. Now the stars are aligned for content companies to manage, monetize, and multiply the value of their digital assets through effective mobile advertising, user-friendly mobile search, and a cross-platform strategy in which mobile can and must play a central role.