The race to the bottom of the mobile ad money pile

I've been watching the emerging ecosystem of mobile ad blockers with some interest in part because of the fevered pitch of the debate surrounding their ethics.. On the side of publishers and advertising people the claim is that ad blockers are tantamount to stealing money while industry argue that crazy load times and take-over advertising hurt the user experience to the point where the mobile web (the only web that matters) will be hobbled beyond recognition. They are both interesting arguments that really fail to get to the heart of the matter:

Mobile advertising just doesn't work for anything beyond causing an application download. I've long thought that this was about three things: what people want to do on their mobile device, better targeting, and the ad format.

The first I was clearly wrong about— people want to do all of the same things on mobile that they do on their desktop Internet even if this means researching a new car on a tiny screen full of pinch and zoom gestures. Five years ago I would not have believed it but the data is overwhelming: much like the best camera is the one you have on you, the best web browser is the one in your pocket.

Targeting too is pretty good these days with a number of players using a variety of signals to find people across the mobile spectrum of apps and the web and ensure that it is the same two eyes looking across time and devices.

It is the ad format then that is still woefully un-native for almost everything that matters. Apps can get cross promoted in stream as Facebook and Twitter have demonstrated but it is far from clear that anything else works at all— either for traditional recall methods or for any other type of incentivized action. And since the future of the web is truly mobile, this is a big deal for both advertisers and for the advertising industry.