Russell Davies: Mobile advertising might be a problem best left well alone
A view from Russell Davies

Russell Davies: Mobile advertising might be a problem best left well alone

Go to conferences about media and technology and you're guaranteed to hear someone say something like: "The future of consumer media behaviour will be via the mobile platform, and while we haven't figured out how to make advertising work in this space yet, when we do ... " The three dots are normally followed by some variant of: "That's what'll really get revenue going." Or: "Advertising will get back in the driving seat." Or: "We'll...

But I can't be the only one sitting there wondering why everyone assumes this problem will get solved. What if there isn't a good way of doing advertising on mobile? What if nobody wants it? That seems entirely plausible and likely. Maybe one of the things people like about their phones is that they don't get interrupted by advertising - their mobiles are, ironically, one of the few things in their lives not beaming messages at them.

It's not like mobile needs advertising revenue to survive. The lack of ad money isn't posing the sort of existential threat it does for other channels - mobile has flourished without it. We pay for hardware, for bandwidth, for services and for software. And we're pretty happy to do it. The only people looking for an ad solution are those who desperately need the relevance and attention, or businesses looking for an extra cherry on the revenue cake.

Maybe that's why mobile advertising efforts haven't tended to be breakout successes to date. Remember Blyk, for instance? An interesting idea in theory - free minutes in return for accepting advertising - but not, so far, taking over the world. What about Apple's famous iAds? They were originally launched at a platform-entry price point of $1 million. I don't think that's still the going rate. Google ads cost less on mobile than they do on the desktop web, and Google is famously good at this kind of thing.

All of which points to something significant - advertising on mobile is hard, really hard.

Perhaps hope lies with Twitter. It is famously not brilliant at monetising its billions of interactions, but there are some indications that the microblogging portal is making it work better on mobile than rivals such as Facebook are. Maybe it's just because Twitter is starting from a very low base, or perhaps it's because Twitter is native to mobile - it was born as an SMS service, after all. It's culturally attuned to the device experience: speed, small screens, out-and-aboutness.

So maybe we will have to wait for a smartphone-generation business to fix mobile advertising. Or maybe it won't get fixed at all. It won't be the end of the world, but it might be the end of some conferences.