What DrupalCon Taught Me About Mobile Advertising

I hope everyone enjoyed the AdMonsters Memphis Publisher Forum. I was in Memphis on Sunday night and then made my way to Chicago for a conference called DrupalCon. AdMonsters is a Drupal site and we were very pleased to participate in this event. I took away a LOT of knowledge from our peers on the technology side of things. One of the subjects that everyone was talking about was mobile. It really connected with me how the same discussions happening at DrupalCon could be applied to mobile advertising. I’d like to share some of those takeaways in this post.

A little back story

For those of you not familiar, Drupal is an open-source framework/CMS/codebase used to power websites including our own admonsters.com. DrupalCon is the flagship conference put on by the Drupal Association. The conference had about 3000 people attending – everyone from developers, designers, themers, site builders and admins, project managers, and “suits” (executives wanting to understand more about how Drupal powers business). There are several AdMonsters members who use Drupal to power their websites.

Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal and lead maintainer, gave a keynote address to kick off the conference. He spent a lot of the presentation focused on mobile, and specifically about how that relates to the next release of Drupal (D8). Dries said that if he were to build Drupal today it would be built for mobile first.

In our industry we tend to talk about mobile as if it’s some new fangled thing that just came along one day. And of course there’s truth to that. But how long have we been talking about “this is the year of mobile?” There was an article a few weeks ago that indicated that agencies are “experimenting” with mobile and not really buying into it because it hasn’t reached critical mass.

The folks at DrupalCon beg to differ. In his keynote, Dries pointed to data from Morgan Stanley that shows the majority of computing devices out there today are mobile. More data is available on this slideshare… to be fair that’s including laptops. The ad experience may not be so different on a laptop from a desktop to be sure. But the point is the rate of mobile adoption is exponentially greater than that of previous technology.

Mobile First

AdMonsters CEO Bowen Dwelle mentioned the concept of Mobile First in his recent blog post on the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting. Think about this – what if you took your online presence and started with your mobile site or app FIRST and then went on to build out your website. What would you do? The answer is pretty simple – you would focus only on the things the user absolutely has to have and needs to get done. And how would you then take those concepts and apply them to your website? This concept was explained in a session by Steve Fisher, a User Experience Designer from Yellow Pencil in Canada. During the session there were two gentleman standing in front of me. One guy hit the other on the arm and quietly whispered, “Mobile first… mobile FIRST.” It was an epiphany.

I think the connection between that and what we can do for advertising is pretty clear. There will be a shift in the industry, if we like or not, to mobile being the majority of ad inventory out there. That’s where the audience is going. They are getting there much faster than they did with desktops or laptops. One of the waiters at the hotel saw my iPad and said, “I have to get one of those but I’m waiting for next week.” (March 11 was the release of iPad2.) Devices like the iPad, Xoom and other tablets are at a much lower starting price point than desktops and laptops when they first came out. It’s not going to be a nice-to-have product for long. Soon it will be the de-facto standard communication technology.

Mobile isn’t about technology – its about people

A mobile device is an extension of the user. The iPhone was designed to feel like it’s a part of you and that’s the concept at the heart of Apple’s success. It’s convenient, it’s fun and it’s social. It literally feels like it augments us as human beings.

This idea of “mobile first” is really about “user first.” We should be creating ad experiences not just in mobile, but in general, that reflect that. People don’t have time to look at a million features and wait for hero boxes or huge graphical elements to download on their phones. They just want to get at what they need. Mobile sites and apps only have what is essential for people to reach the goal of what you want them to do. The same is true not only for mobile, but for websites as well, and indeed for advertising in general, no?

Of course there is a time, a place and a space for impressive functionality and graphics on mobile. Magazines applications are a good example of a rich experience that makes sense. But wouldn’t it be great if instead of just reading the magazine on my iPad, I was actually able to do something with it? For instance readers of Lucky magazine are able to use QR codes and SMS to make instant purchases from the printed version of the magazine. That makes sense. It is creative and it is user-first.

So why are we still treating mobile as nascent technology?

Not too long ago when you asked certain ad serving companies, and video ad serving companies for that matter, what offering they have in mobile the answer often was, “there’s not enough demand and adoption of the technology to make an investment in mobile.”

Now I hope the story is different. Let’s think about this from a “mobile first” perspective. If we create advertising that works well on mobile, those same advertisement creative concepts will translate just as well, if not better, to display (or video).

Also let’s learn from our own history. How can we work today to make mobile, video and display work together in a truly operationally efficient way? We can draw on our experience from the past. What processes have been success for operations in display and video? How can we apply those principles to mobile? Will they work for mobile or do we have to do something different?

My challenge to us is to think in real ways how can we harness these concepts to grow the potential of our industry. Mobile advertising has the capability to be a powerful way of connecting with people whenever and wherever we are. Forget about the recession – a downturn is the best time to invest rather than boom-time when prices are inflated, and everyone is doing well or being complacent.

Mobile won’t be a separate category out there on it’s own. It will just be another way of connecting to each other. As a result, mobile advertising won’t be an experiment much longer.

AdMonsters will be hosting an event later in this year that deals with specifically with mobile. Please keep a look out for event announcements on Twitter and Facebook. If you are interested in participating in that discussion or want more information about how you can get involved with this event, drop us a note. We’d love to hear from you.

Note: If you want to learn more about DrupalCon visit the DrupalCon Chicago website.