October 17, 2013

Will HTML5 Light a Fire Under Mobile Advertising?

During the past three years, mobile advertising has grown 90 percent each quarter and its share of the overall advertising pie continues to grow quickly. Consumers are increasingly accessing content across all kinds of devices, providing opportunities for digital advertisers to reach them in new ways. Even so, there’s more work to be done: only 41 percent of advertising professionals in a recent Google (News Alert) study said that they expected an increase in mobile creative campaigns this year. Could HTML5 turn the market around?

Part of the reason for the slow adoption is the fact that in some cases, clients simply aren’t expressing enough interest in mobile advertising, as it’s a much newer market than desktop advertising. Those involved in selling and developing ads indicate this is one of the biggest barriers to doing more smartphone and tablet advertising. On the buying side, some media professionals say ad networks are not providing them with enough validation metrics to warrant purchasing more impressions. “As a result, these media pros don’t have the proof points necessary to convince their clients that mobile is worth the time and money—or to prove they are actually reaching the target audience,” Google noted.

Perhaps more critically, there’s a technology issue: moving ads across all those screens is a challenging prospect. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to the development of the mobile market according to Google is market fragmentation in terms of devices and operating systems. Developing ads for the mobile Web requires the development of different formats for each type of endpoint, resulting in a complex, expensive process that leaves advertisers facing decisions as to where to put their development dollars. 

Image via Shutterstock

“In the absence of an industry standard, ad professionals are making decisions on a case-by-case basis, and there’s a strong incentive to stick with the legacy standards they know,” said Google. “Flash is still the dominant developing platform for advertising professionals. About half of the rich media ads created for the desktop are still in Flash.”

And Flash is problematic, because it only runs in certain mobile browsers.

Another issue is the fact that desktop PCs are still the top platform for digital advertising, with more than half of digital ad campaigns being designed specifically for them, compared to one in four that are developed for smartphones and one in five for tablets. Despite moving into what Steve Jobs (News Alert) called a “post-PC” world, old habits appear to die hard. And that leads to complacency: the survey found that two out of five advertising professionals surveyed are simply re-using the ads they developed for the desktop on smartphones and tablets—which leads to un-optimized campaigns, lower user engagement and less brand interest over time.

To put things in perspective, however, the study did show that there are signs that the chains are moving on mobile ads, at least in terms of intent: A healthy percentage, 67 percent, said that they believe that it’s important to design specifically for mobile campaigns. And 79 percent said that clients are asking for creative that works across smartphones and tablets.

One bright spot in the landscape is HTML5. HTML5 is emerging as the new standard for Web content and digital advertising because it’s more flexible than Flash, because it’s supported on every browser and device. That helps bridge much of the issues presented by device fragmentation.

In a recent Google study, 88 percent of advertising professionals said that they believe HTML5 will have a positive impact on the advertising industry because it can act as a universal platform that lets them create content that can be synced across browsers and devices.

“HTML5 not only provides the benefit of device-agnostic creative; it also offers a platform for designing beautiful and interactive creative that can run on all screens,” Google said. “We’re seeing the move from standard banners to rich media ads on desktop already, as interactive ads provide more compelling user experiences. HTML5 allows us to continue that movement toward engaging formats for smartphones and tablets as well.”

The study found that the use of HTML5 for smartphone and tablet rich-media ad development is already on par with Flash. The next step to pushing HTML5 to a tipping point requires knowledge building however, because outsourced mobile production is an issue. About 60 percent of respondents admitted that their expertise in producing HTML5 ads is limited to non-existent—hampering the adoption of this standardized approach to ad development.

Google concluded that gaining expertise in building HTML5 ads will allow advertisers to overcome some of the biggest barriers they face. Couple this with being able to provide proof points that demonstrate the success of campaigns on mobile devices, and advertising professionals will be poised to reverse the negative cycle that is holding mobile advertising back.

“HTML5 alone will not solve all of the problems in the fragmented advertising industry, but the standardization of it is an important step in simplifying what is now a complex set of decisions,” the firm said. “As one account executive put it, HTML5 is the next logical step in moving our clients and industry forward.”

Edited by Alisen Downey


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