The proliferation of mobile devices in our everyday lives is driving changes in how companies advertise. Today, if an advertiser wishes to reach a specific market, it pays to explore ways of advertising directly to smartphones and other mobile devices. Mobile advertising is not only creating new ways for advertisers to provide personal, targeted content, but is also creating new areas of competition for businesses wishing to stay relevant.   

The Origin of Mobile Marketing

When Motorola released the first mobile phone in 1973, it likely did not foresee the rapid changes that would drive innovation in the decades that followed. While the Internet was created a few years before, it was in the 1990’s that organizations began to create their own websites as digital profiles for domestic consumers.

In 1993, the first online banner ad was created, providing advertisers their first forays into digital advertising. 1994 saw the creation of the first QR codes, where links to specific webpages could be coded into black and white graphics on signs, billboards or magazine pages. In 1996, the first mobile phones with Internet access were released, granting users the ability to directly access company stores and webpages from their devices.

By the time the first Mobile Ad Conference was held in 2000, it had become clear that digital advertising to mobile consumers was poised to become the future of how we interact with content.

Mobile Marketing Today

In 2012, it was estimated that as many as 50% of U.S. mobile phone users owned smartphones. Mobile marketing has become a world where advertisers have the ability to target complex ads directly to consumers based on their interests and physical location.

Geo-targeted mobile ads through apps like Foursquare allow advertisers to focus specifically on services that are near a consumer. Apple’s iAd, released in 2010, allows software developers to release free, ad-supported versions of their programs. While users can often pay to have these ads removed, there is still a sizable number of users who prefer the free versions of apps and are, therefore, continually in positions to receive content from advertisers whenever they use their devices.

In 2012, Facebook launched mobile-specific advertising options, once again providing advertisers a new way to reach consumers in a way that is personal and familiar. With advertising having become such a part of how we interact with our smartphones, we are now used to living in a world where we take ads with us wherever we go.

The Future of Mobile Marketing

By 2016, the mobile advertising world is expected to have grown into a $22 billion industry. While much of this growth will likely be due to increased advertisement in smartphone apps and operating systems, other new technologies, like the Google Glass headset, are providing exciting ways for advertisers to reach consumers.

One promising initiative is called “pay-per-gaze.” With this technology, Google Glass will be able to track not only what a user looks at, but also his or her emotional reaction upon viewing an advertisement. For example, Google Glass can track the number of times users physically look at specific advertisements in a city and charge advertisers accordingly. If a user appears happy, sad or disinterested, this data can also find its way into advertising circles. While this technology is still in the early stages and does present some obvious challenges, it will nonetheless be an interesting technology to watch.

While those concerned with privacy may worry about a world where advertisers can track where you are, what you look like and how you respond to their advertisements, it is clear that mobile advertising has reached a new era of complexity. What began as simple banner advertisements on static web pages has evolved into a user-specific system that follows consumers throughout their home and work lives. With such an incredible pace of change in mobile advertising in only a few decades, only time will tell what new unforeseen technologies we will have in the years to come.

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