Over time, advertising spend has held a close correlation with consumer behaviour. A trend that has been consistent across print, TV, the web and now even Facebook.

However, one channel has proved incongruous with the rest: mobile. Report after report points to consumers worldwide spending more time on their mobile devices.

In Europe, the mobile revolution is well under way, with premium publishers typically generating 50% of their traffic through their mobile sites.

Despite this, mobile display only accounts for 6% of the display advertising spend in UK and lower in the rest of Europe.

As consumers spend more time on their mobile devices, it makes sense that brand marketers look for effective ways to capitalise on the high level of consumer engagement with the channel. But as we continue to wait for mobile display advertising spend to increase we all begin to wonder: will marketers ever be able to monetize mobile display effectively?

Can the publisher compete with the usual suspects like Google, Facebook and Twiter? Will rich media be the knight in shining armour that can save mobile? 

Consumer behaviour over mobile keeps the ad price low

Whether they’re waiting for a bus, train or a table at a restaurant, it’s now the norm to see consumers, head down engrossed in whatever they’re reading on their mobiles.

Smartphones have proved fantastic for emails, for point in time research like finding a nearby restaurant, consuming news etc. But the fact remains that the same level of engagement has not been achieved in the world of mobile e-commerce, where booking flights, buying clothes and selecting insurance deals proves too much of an arduous task.

As a result, advertisers pay less for mobile ads than for those online, largely because consumers are less likely to make a purchase on their phones.

While people click on mobile ads more than on normal display ads, advertisers wonder whether that is because of what they call the “fat finger effect” of accidental clicks on tiny touch screens or just curiosity because they are bored on the train.

The mobile ads we currently see remain just miniature versions of ads on websites, an echo of the early days of the internet where we saw non-animated gifs. These offer little value to brands, as the format cannot really deliver a brand message, in turn questioning whether mobile is no good for either performance or brand campaigns.

The big players have success, but what about the publishers?

Facebook, Google and Twitter finally have found a way to increase mobile ad spend according to last quarter earnings.

We all know that mobile as a medium holds some fantastic opportunities for advertisers. The phrase the right creative, with the right message, at the right time can with mobile be extended to at the right place due to GPS and check in apps.

Google, for example, is taking advantage of exactly that with their click-to-call format from where you can book your local restaurant based upon your search result. The way that Facebook and Twitter is monetising mobile is through sponsored stories and tweets, which are squeezed into your feed on a non-intrusive but noticeable way.

The problem for publishers is the fact that they have not found a way to monetise their mobile inventory. They don´t really have the same options as Google, Facebook and Twitter as they rarely have such detailed profile information which can be used for targeting and they can´t offer any exciting formats to advertisers.

New mobile formats and technology are a lifeline to publishers

Smartphones today have endless capabilities. Improved internet browsing, swipe and touch, direct link embedded in emails and much more. For this very reason publishers need rich media formats that can support those capabilities.

Rich media formats for mobile have been under development for some time in terms of standardisation and in July, the IAB finally launched the five specifically designed for mobile devices: filmstrip, pull, adhesion, full page flex and slider.

All offer a reliable and engaging experience, but perhaps their best feature is how effectively they take advantage of the available screen space. They all complement the user’s experience within the page and play on our willingness to touch and explore content through sound, motion and interaction.

This is gift for brands, who finally have access to the creative freedom they need in order to succeed with mobile display advertising. This will no doubt also in turn benefit the publishers and the market in general.

Capabilities including embedded video links and GPS location give publishers great opportunity to incorporate a call-to-action and location based offers in banners helping the potential customer with direction to the nearest store front to buy a piece of clothes or the nearest car dealer where you can test drive a new car.

All of sudden, a new way of dealing with online display advertising emerges, where we have real life brand campaigns disguised as performance campaigns which will increase both ad spend and ad price do to relevance

The world is not perfect and neither is mobile – there’s still too many challenges with the channel and identifying its role somewhere between the high street and the online world.

But many of the same challenges are reminiscent of the early days of the internet, where ad prices were low and both publishers and advertisers began to lose faith in online display because it was not print.

The only way to monetise a new channel is to reinvent formats and creative options. Mobiles aren’t desktops and where advertisers look follow audiences, and innovation, which is why a better understanding of rich media in the smartphone world will be the key to publisher and advertiser success over the channel and across devices.