Don Draper is back, just in time to see Ad Men yield to M’ad Men
Don Draper and the Mad Men gang from Sterling Cooper return Sunday on AMC’s four-time Emmy Award winner, after a seemingly interminable 17 months away.
But a lot has changed in the 17 month hiatus. Not with the sixties, in which the show is set, but the ‘teens in which it is viewed. The Mad Men of the show were trying to grapple with the new medium of TV, which was a big departure from how people were spending time, and how advertisers spent money. They had a raw take on manliness, and a pretty much anti-PC bent to everything that transpired. I’ve written about it before (relating to another Vaux investment). They also wear pocket squares.
But in the here and now, the M’ad Men are on the scene (that’s Mobile ad men, and I’m among them) and there is another mass transformation in process.
Let me try to explain it this way: there is a scene in an early episode where John Hamm’s character driving upstate, listening to the radio (speeding, with a drink and no seat belt but that’s considered period charming). He hears a traffic report (backup on the bridge), and dismisses the information (ending up in a caught in the same). It was just the beginning of how ad-supported media would become capable of delivering information that is both timely and relevant, if not always used.
Today, a larger and larger audience will hear of Don Draper and Mad Men, watch his show, and comment on his show through mobile devices. It is the harbinger of the greatest transfer of time spent since the TV entered Don’s creative agency: out of no-where, people are now spending 10% of their total screen time on a mobile device. People are starting revolutions, looking up recipes, avoiding disasters, and of course watching MadMen videos on mobile devices. It’s going to get a lot bigger, at the expense of most other media out there. There are a few billion mobile devices in the world today, and it’s still growing.
I believe it will set off the greatest traffic jam of all time, in a digital media sense, anyways. Heres how it happened, in grossly oversimplified terms only I could dare to paint!
The publishers may have figured this out first. Companies like Time Inc, ABC, NBC Universal saw their audiences begin to shift. As their inventory of available pages evolved (aka circulation, or eyeballs in digital media speak), their mobile strategies got serious. They monetized through ad networks (see below), then other point solutions (see below also), some even tried to get online ad-networks to work in this new medium. Finally, they concluded that they needed a platform to run and maximize the yield on their entire mobile inventory. Lucky for them, there was one that served their needs.
The Early Mobile ad Networks were the first prospectors in this brave new worked of mobile, and they did well, stringing together exchanges of advertisers and publishers and taking a cut for matching them up. Though a hard business to differentiate in, the early winners were great exits. Enpocket to Nokia for a couple hundred. Third Screen to AOL for a little under fifty. Quattro to Apple for almost three hundred. Admob to Google for over seven. There are several more.
But a funny thing happened in almost all of those acquisitions: I truly believe the buyers really thought they were getting a technology platform that they could scale across their larger organizations, so they paid up. We’re talking billions of dollars in the hopes there was some tech under there somewhere that could give them a commanding lead in mobile. But when I look at what those buyers are doing with the assets, I have to conclude they all didn’t get that. Not even the recent S-1 filings are all that impressive when it comes to ad tech. Facebook even acknowledged it as a risk- 122 times in their filing.
The point solutions came next into the market, trying to get attention (from anyone!) with their latest idea that would revolutionize mobile. Mobile Thumbprint (the equivalent of an internet cookie), video, full screen takeovers, SDK’s, app networks, real-time bidding and every other feature and business process under the sun has launched, and maybe saw Series A funding. Some were just too early. Most of them tried to give away the farm to get clients, and the VC money won’t last long with that model. Many are starting to top out, and will soon realize they have to bolt onto an enterprise with scale and relationships. It’s not going to be a pretty story as they get caught in the rush.
The Social Networks and social gamers have grown large and influential, but they too are noticing a problem- their audience is spending more and more time on mobile. Facebook is a game changer of epic proportions (here’s my take on a portion of that story) and they have massive advertising revenue from their online sites, but most of the leaders in the field have not figured out how to monetize mobile. If the trends continue (doubtless they will), they will be lined up at the mobile bridge in no time.
The Online ad networks may be themselves facing a rude surprise soon enough as more of their audience bolts to mobile. Online ad servers didn’t translate to mobile for a few very simple reasons, none of which I am about to give up here. But it doesn’t work, or it hasn’t until now and the bigs have been losing customers left and right because they could not get some basic mobile parameters to work. They need a bridge to mobile, and they will need it soon. Tailoring the existing online platforms hasn’t worked. They will need a bridge.
And so, the traffic jam begins to form at the bridge to mobile ad serving. Hundreds of online ad networks have to deliver on a mobile solution, but theirs have not worked to date. The remaining large publishers, and indeed the mediums and the smalls will have to finalize a sophisticated mobile strategy in order to compete as well. The point solutions who have entered the market will have to seek out scale. And they look across that yawning chasm to those that have made the move to mobile and are beginning to ramp (some thirty mobile ad networks, and about thirty of the largest publishers by my count) and they are thinking oh shit, if this trend continues I’m gonna get killed on this side of the divide.
It looks to me like there is only one bridge, and people are going to want to cross it sooner than later. Even a one-hand driving, seatbelt-scoffing, scotch-in-hand Don Draper would see that signpost up ahead.
Note: I founded, with Krish and Dan, and financed Mojiva, owner of the Mocean Mobile Ad Serving Platform. That is the bridge, IMHO.