Why mobile spend is miniscule

Kevin HuangMobile still makes up just a tiny fraction of ad spend in Asia, despite rocketing penetration.

Digital ad sales house boss Kevin Huang gave 11 reasons why this is in an interview with Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks at the Mobile Marketing Forum in Singapore.

Poor creative

All too often, a static print ad is used on a mobile device, which is a lost opportunity. Agencies are familiar with the technology, but they don’t have the time to use it to its full potential. A lot of money is being spent on media, but often with the wrong, weak or inappropriate message. The same happened with digital display advertising until rich media became widespread.

Strategy (lack of)

At the moment, mobile is just an afterthought in strategy meetings. Even though the mobile device is in everyone’s hand and everyone’s pocket, is the first thing we pick up and the last thing we put down, it is still not taken seriously by most marketers.

Too complex

As an industry, we continue to make same mistake we made in the early days of digital by making mobile too complicated. We are scaring marketers away. The medium needs to be dumbed down. I do this for a living and even I get confused by the jargon and endless acronyms.

Marketers want to know what mobile can do for them, not how the back-end works. You don’t ask a car salesman how a car is made, do you?

The Flipboard model is great because it’s so simple, and users and advertisers can relate to it. It’s just like flipping through a magazine.

The way it’s sold is interesting too – by share of voice, which is similar to TV buying. Every fourth ad is yours.

Talent drought

There is not enough investment in talent and training in the mobile area.

At the MMA Forum, Jeff Seah [CEO of Starcom Southeast Asia] said that a 25 year-old kid in a media agency, who’s used to working until 11pm every night, must now must work until 2am because he’s trying to get his head around a mobile project he’s struggling to understand.

Market variation

Executing a regional mobile campaign is not easy, partly because there is so much variation between markets. Even if you’re executing a campaign only on an Android handset, you need multiple versions. Hong Kong and Singapore are very different markets to India and the Philippines, because of differences in smart phone penetration.


There are many people who are selling mobile as a mysterious potion that will solve all manner of marketing problems. There are also people boasting about numbers that, frankly, are not very impressive. Reaching 600,000 people in China is not a big figure. You can reach more people than that with traditional direct marketing or handing out fliers.

Lack of experimentation

Holding companies structures do not allow the space and time for innovation, which does not do mobile marketing any favours.

At Google, at least 30 per cent of the company’s time is spent on experimenting. There is very little of this in the ad industry.

The young people in the business, who work the long hours, are the ones who should be coming up with the big ideas. But their energy is being drained, leaving little potential for the sort of bold new thinking mobile marketing requires.

Apps overload

There are too many of them. People download apps because they are free, but they are rarely used. If you are developing an app, it needs to serve a purpose.

Screen size

This will always be a problem, since there will always be brands who believe their ad should be big and bold. Take LVMH. They’ve always bought big billboards and double-page spreads. For some advertisers mobile will never be seen as the right medium for them. But they have to go where the audience has gone, otherwise they will lose that audience.

I remember when Google first emerged and advertisers were asking me if they could put a banner on the homepage. They bristled at the idea of using an ugly text link. Now most brands have a search strategy.

Load speed

If you’re targeting markets with a low smart phone penetration this doesn’t mean you can’t use rich media, but you have to be realistic. You can’t show an ad that is inappropriate for the user. Don’t run a low-tech ad on an iPhone 5.


Just because you can track someone from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to bed, it doesn’t mean you should. There’s a fine line between okay and creepy. It shouldn’t be crossed with a device as personal as a mobile phone.

Kevin Huang is the CEO of Pixel Media, which owns mobile marketing specialist Snap Mobile


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