As Mobile Evolves, So Does Digital Advertising

Written by Tim Edmundson

Innovation – in any industry or product – opens the doors to anyone looking to utilize that new breakthrough technology. For ad tech, there was a single moment that transformed how advertisers reach consumers and, in the process, created a market that is now projected to top $100 Billion in spending in 2016 – the launch of the iPhone.

While its true there were smartphones before the iPhone, none of them had the cultural effect, nor the function the Apple device possessed. Consumers took to the phone for both personal and business purposes, and its design has changed how we think of phones as a whole. And while it wasn’t ready-made for advertisers, it kicked off a much larger trend that has led us to where we are today in terms of mobile advertising.


steve-jobs-first-iphoneUnveiled on June 29, 2007, the iPhone represented a monumental shift in mobile technology. Apple didn’t just create a new phone, it established an immersive system that expanded the limits of business and personal life. The iPhone digitized life; memories, interactions, work and entertainment all became accessible in your pocket, something that you could touch and feel. What did this mean for advertisers?

In the beginning it wasn’t very clear. The framework of the first iOS made it very difficult for advertisers to get much use out of the product. It was incredibly expensive, the base model started off at $499, and that didn’t include the mandatory 2-year contract on one lone carrier. The high cost of entry for consumers meant that the market was very narrow to start.

There were technical limitations as well. Basic functions that were natural to desktop advertisers weren’t available on this new iteration of mobile, such as flash. Viewing web pages was incredibly clunky – the pages weren’t formatted to the new screen size. No animations, GIFs, interactive ads, or automated video were available as tools for mobile marketers. If advertisers were looking to reach customers over their new iPhones, simple and plain was the best they could hope for.

So the iPhone’s start wasn’t exactly a dream for advertisers. But problems aside, there was potential. Within a year, Apple opened up it’s own SDK (software development kit) for app builders to begin designing their own programs to function on the phone. This was opening the gate to an unlimited realm of possibilities. But what came before the light?


51jvoIWcntLRummage through your desk and find your old phone, say for example your old Palm Treo (if it hasn’t already been exiled to a landfill somewhere) and turn it on. What do you feel?  It’s almost unthinkable for someone to use that sort of phone in today’s world. It feels archaic – something forgotten by time. Like mailing a polaroid of a sunset from Bangkok to New Jersey instead of just Snapchatting it – almost. With these types of devices, there were so few ways advertisers could reach their audience. So what could they do with such limited outlets? They started a conversation.

One of the earliest tactics was the SMS advertisement. The first person-to-person Short Message Service was sent in 1994, and it took almost six years before the first SMS advertisement was sent in 2000. To say the least, progress was slow. But in 2005, Nike illustrated a clever way of putting advertisements in the pocket of consumers.

The basics of the campaign were pretty simple, but nonetheless illustrated the power of the mobile device. After identifying key audiences that would be interested in their newest limited edition shoe (the Air Force-X Mid), they sought out these prospects via their mobile phone number, and would send texts through alerts on certain locations to go and find out codes to redeem. It was a scavenger hunt that centered around “SMS Missions;” whoever responded fastest with the right answers got the shoe. It was incredibly creative, and generated buzz for Nike and their new shoe. But not every company could execute a campaign like this – the mobile platform was simply inaccessible aside from a few inventive endeavors.


29625Z_ImageForNativeAdvertisingBlog_1200x900_Blog_041316Flash forward to today and the mobile market is now incredibly saturated. By April of 2015, over 2/3 of Americans owned a smartphone. Along with the iPhone, the Android explosion helped pushed the frontier of mobile to the edge. These devices had come a long way, and opened a lot of new avenues for advertisers. Things like the integration of flash and formatted sizes to fit massive mobile screens became second nature. Native ads, interstitial ads, overlay ads, and push notifications all became part of the market for advertisers.

Mobile no longer plays second fiddle to desktop, but instead many see it as the future of digital advertising. The numbers don’t lie – users are spending record amounts of time on their smartphones. Time spent on mobile devices just exceeded time spent watching television – three hours 18 minutes on average for mobile versus just under three hours for television per day – a huge milestone that no other media format has been able to do. With that much attention being poured into iPhones and Androids, its no wonder marketers are bullish on the format.

Smartphones are such a dominant force that they are even taking over other advertising channels entirely. Once seen as separate entities, mobile and social now go hand in hand. Twitter has 257 million monthly active users. Facebook alone sees a staggering 1.13 billion active daily mobile users for their platform. Needless to say, mobile and social’s destinies are intertwined. As more and more consumers become enamored with their social media platforms, the smartphones that act as portals will only become more vital to consumers and advertisers alike.

And from the logistical standpoint, pushing ads across multiple devices has become a lot easier. No longer is it mobile vs. desktop––they have been integrated into one world where an ad can be served anywhere. Rich media is so ingrained in every app and website on mobile that advertisers are now able to find creative solutions in these mediums.


As mobile technology continues to evolve and offer more functionality and features, digital ads and the tactics marketers use to serve them will continue to evolve right alongside them. Every new piece of hardware and OS update affords new opportunities to find creative ways to connect with customers, and we can’t wait to see what the next big steps in the mobile evolution brings.

To get the most out of your mobile campaigns, check out the SteelHouse Advertising Suite