There is a real problem with display ads. They make up a huge chunk of the digital ad industry but are hated by just about everyone and they work almost none of the time. Instead of building a better, non-banner ad, the industry has been waiting for ad dollars to simply migrate in the direction of the Web. It’s based on the assumption that increased attention to the Internet will eventually translate to proportionate ad spend there.
That hasn’t happened. What’s worse is the same ugly cycle of waiting, hoping, and then nothing could just as easily happen in mobile. If you look at the amount of time we spend with our phones, the opportunity is huge–bigger than TV! But the opportunity requires major innovation. I really hope shoving desktop ad formats, which already don’t work, onto a tiny smartphone screen is the best idea we’ve got.
You could say that MoPub–the self-ordained Doubleclick for Mobile–is doing just that. But today, with a new round of venture funding on the back of a big agency hire, the company makes a step in tackling the problem before it really becomes a problem.
MoPub raised a $12 million Series B round of funding from Jafco Ventures, alongside Iris Capital, the joint venture investment arm of Publicis Group and Orange, as well as existing MoPub investors Accel Partners and Harrison Metal Capital.
The company also announced earlier this week it hired Paul Gelb, head of mobile at Razorfish, as its Head of Strategy. My article bemoaning the lack of innovation in display ads for the web last week referenced an interview I’d done with Gelb a year prior: he said mobile advertising would overtake TV advertising, a sentiment that got me laughed out of the room anytime I mentioned it around a television exec. Asked again yesterday and Gelb stands by his statement.
There is a limited amount of time and attention in the world, and if it’s shifting from a device that monetized that attention to another, that device will also need to monetize the attention it gets. “As a marketer, you need to be in that channel and be effective,” he says.
MoPub hired Gelb as part of a move towards looking at the agency point of view to buying ads, says CEO Jim Payne. The new capital will go towards hires such as Gelb and expanding MoPub’s ad network operations internationally. The company’s realtime bidding marketplace is the most significant part of MoPub’s revenue, Payne says. MoPub services 15 billion ads per month to 10,000 apps and 5,000 publishers.
But it’s still the same basic ad unit. The problem with the existing innovations on the mobile ad unit such as native ads is that they don’t scale and they aren’t easy to buy and sell. Native ads are not a silver bullet. “I don’t believe all banners are inefficient, and I don’t believe that some new undefined ad unit is the holy grail,” Gelb says. Unlike with display ads, mobile has better contextual targeting and interactive elements.
Still, it’s early days for mobile. “The pipe still needs to be built,” Gelb says. “Reach and scale isn’t everything, but it is potential.”