Mobile is no longer the future, rather it is the present, says Joshua Maa, founder and chief executive officer, Madhouse Inc., a mobile advertising platform. And this has been the underlying reason for the company to continue focusing on developing mobile centric media solutions. After introducing the vision of ‘No mobile no marketing’ in 2010, Maa and his team is riding a new wave called ‘From mobile first to mobile most’. If the former solution enabled the company to provide major media agencies in China with mobile ad technology and marketing solutions which were further passed on to advertisers, with the help of the latter the company has launched sophisticated programmatic buying solutions via big data technologies.
Before founding Madhouse, Maa was EVP at TOM Online, where he managed the wireless business and operations and international business development teams. Prior to TOM Online, Maa was founding CEO, Rock Mobile Corporation, Greater China’s mobile music entertainment service provider. In a conversation with FE BrandWagon’s Anushree Bhattacharyya, Maa talks about what marketers need to do to take advantage of the mobile advertising revolution. Edited excerpts:
Even as advertisers have started to advertise on mobile, there is a general feeling that the experience is a bit intrusive for consumers. Do you agree?
No one likes intrusive ads. By this logic an ad on TV or a magazine too is intrusive for consumers. So why only blame mobile? I think consumers too understand the economics of free media, that is, if the media is free, publishers definitely need to opt for advertising in order to monetise their platforms. I don’t think this is an issue that requires so much debating, since had advertising on mobile been actually intrusive, it would not have been effective. Also, had media owners/ publishers failed to draw the line between advertising and content, they would not have been successful in building strong media brands.
Industry observers claim that native advertising may solve all the problems faced by publishers as far as advertising on mobile is concerned. Is there a world beyond native?
Native advertising definitely is one of the new models in advertising that needs to be further explored. Advertising on mobile is going through a revolution in China and this model can be brought to other countries like India. Under the new scheme, a consumer can actually click on a banner/sticker and say she does not want to see that type of ad. With this, even the media owner would get to know the likes and dislikes of various users. If adopted, this can prove to be a vital step, especially in case of premium publishers who can protect the interest of readers. I think users should be allowed to select the kind of ads they would like to see on mobile. The same can be done to videos. In China, users can choose whether they would like to watch an ad or not, especially when it comes to video content. So in case of viewers who do not prefer to watch ads during the video, they are being asked to subscribe to the content. The way I see it, more advanced publishers should adopt this model soon.
What are the learnings from the international markets that can be applied to India?
One of the things is that it is not about mobile now or mobile first; it is rather about how to do things on mobile. As an entrepreneur/marketer, one needs to start planning the advertising and marketing strategy based on consumer behaviour on mobile, and other screens should be an extension of it. Right now it is exactly the opposite as mobile is the extension of screens such as television. Pretty soon the big screen in the living room will become connected to the mobile. In fact, it has already started happening with people preferring to Chromecast or use such other devices to play content from mobile to the TV screen. I think this is a global trend that India needs to adopt.
How do marketers in India perceive mobile, as ad spend on mobile is still 2% of the internet spend?
India isn’t the only country where advertisers are still spending less on advertising on the internet. This is happening in many countries across the world. But those markets that will be the first ones to leverage the mobile will have an advantage over the rest. For example, the UK has been one of the first to adopt the mobile revolution. Despite their expertise in TV commercials, marketers in the UK have now shifted focus to the mobile so much so a 30-second commercial is now designed keeping in mind how it would appear to a consumer on her mobile screen. From lighting to the kind of shots, the storyboard is created keeping the handheld screen in mind. The same ad is then aired on TV. Similarly, media spend is designed giving priority to mobile, followed by TV.
With a lot of VC funding coming to India how can start-ups leverage this flow of cash?
An entrepreneur should plan his entry in the start-up world based on what he loves to do and not on what are the kind of categories that have caught the fancy of investors. The decision to launch a start up should be based on what you love to do the most and return-on-investment will follow. It could be the love for fashion, food, pets, etc. Starting a new venture does not mean that within three years of its launch, one can expect to go the Initial Public Offering (IPO) way. So it is important to create what one loves to do or an entrepreneur will not survive.