The History and Evolution of Mobile Advertising

The History and Evolution of Mobile Advertising

Mobile marketing has come a long way from its rather simple beginnings.

Despite being a relatively new technology used by advertisers (believe it or not, the first iPhone was released less than 10 years ago), it seems as if mobile ads have been popping up on our digital devices much longer than they actually have.

Of course, this is due to the lightning-fast pace of the advertising industry in general, plus the constant innovations in the mobile ad sector that make it feel as if the technology has been around for ages.

As mobile marketers and digital advertising professionals, you likely don’t think much about the history of mobile advertising, because you’re scrambling just to stay on top of the latest mobile ad trends for your clients.

But, we think it can be especially beneficial for you to understand what makes mobile advertising such an important (and effective) piece of your marketing plan — and knowing the history and evolution of mobile ads can make you appear much more knowledgeable. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to look smarter to their clients?

So, how did mobile advertising begin anyway, and where does the industry think it’s headed?

A Mobile Ad Innovation Timeline

2000: The First Mobile Ad is Shared via SMS

I can remember the first time I expressed my feelings to my crush via text message in 2004.

The fear of crickets on the other end of the line terrified me, so I figured a text was the perfect way to show I cared. Fortunately, he reciprocated my feelings at the time, and soon we were texting each other silly emoticons almost every day.

The innovations in Short Message Service (SMS) texts that were offered to the masses in 2000 not only helped shy girls and introverts (and anyone who hates talking on the phone) communicate effectively, the mobile data service also helped show advertisers the potential of incorporating SMS technology into their advertising strategies.

Though SMS wasn’t adopted by advertisers until the year 2000, mobile data services were introduced nine years earlier in Finland by Radiolinja (now Elisa) on the 2G GSM standard — the world’s most common mobile technology. The first person-to-person text message was actually sent in December 1994, and during the late 90s “texting” amongst peers grew in a gradual pace.

Very gradual.

It would actually take six years before the first case of advertising would appear on this new data media channel.

A Finnish news provider decided to utilize the technology; offering free news headlines via SMS, sponsored by advertising. This led to more experimental mobile ads and mobile marketing initiatives, which also resulted in the world’s first mobile advertising conference in 2000 that was sponsored by the Wireless Marketing Association (now the Mobile Marketing Association).

2002: SMS Becomes the Newest Mass Media Channel

Because SMS was such an unobtrusive means for advertisers to communicate their brand messages, mobile phone companies, advertisers and the media industry all took notice of the emerging technology.

Media and mobile experts began calling SMS the “seventh mass media channel” and thought the possibility of time-sensitive and location-based advertising would surely boost their bottom line.

And they were right.

Companies large and small started using SMS to send customer loyalty offers and exclusive promotions.

Event venues began with concert announcements. And media outlets sent news alerts supported by ads. It was a good strategy because SMS providers guaranteed reliable delivery to consumers.

The effectiveness of SMS advertising in certain markets was — and continues to be — a dominating mobile ad strategy.

The success of SMS has also led to significant developments in mobile technology. To be specific, that smartphone you’re likely reading this article on right now wasn’t just created for on-the-go web browsing abilities, but also a means for advertisers to capture the attention of even more mobile users; whether they’re playing Angry Birds, taking Instagram selfies or surfing the mobile web.

2007: Smartphones Start Getting Smarter

The release of the first iPhone in 2007 was a game-changer for both the mobile and advertising industries.

While the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone (remember Palm OS, Blackberry and their styluses?) Apple’s smartphone technology redefined the industry; changing mobile user behavior by creating a product and OS that not only helped consumers in their professional lives, but also added entertainment value.

However, when mobile advertising was introduced on smartphones, the ads themselves weren’t exactly the most well-designed.

You may recall the first mobile browser ads from the early iPhone days: the user experience was clunky, and let’s face it:

The ads were ugly and annoying.

This is because advertisers would often use desktop browser ads and then reformat them for use in mobile web browsers.

Because the response to this tactic was dismal at best, it prompted advertisers to use better mobile advertising technologies and creative studios who built the ads “mobile first.”

When the iPhone 3G arrived just a year later, the App Store was introduced, allowing users to leave mobile web browsing behind and use mobile apps instead.

The word caught on to developers that mobile apps were in high-demand, and many of the first mobile apps were free to users, supported by mobile advertising.

As capabilities grew to include interactive gaming and GPS technology, mobile ads began incorporating these features for a more engaging user experience all around.

2010s – Present: Mobile Ads Continue to Evolve

In 2010, the first iPad was released, and the size of the U.S. mobile advertising market had increased to $1.45 billion. And by 2012, smartphone technology caught on like wildfire, so the mobile advertising industry also had to evolve rather quickly.

By 2014, it became increasingly important for developers to include mobile advertising within apps to create seamless experiences. This is because users were spending more of their time playing Candy Crush or stalking old boyfriends (I swear I don’t do this) on social media apps, and the browser was quickly becoming an afterthought.

In fact, by 2015 consumers were spending 88% of their online time in-app.

To achieve the best possible user experience, mobile advertising companies began offering a variety of mobile ads like interstitial ads, overlay ads — and, my personal favorites — native and video ads; all of which create higher engagement with users.

Gone are the days of those clunky reformatted banner ads. And today, these new, and well-designed ad types are still evolving — and appeasing both advertisers and consumers alike.

What’s Next in Mobile Advertising?

The mobile advertising industry has made some incredible advancements since the days that I sent my first flirtatious texts.

Mobile devices now play a key role in our everyday lives; from scheduling meetings while on the go, to online shopping and even staying on track with our fitness goals.

Industry experts predict that mobile video ads will take over our screens as more users shift their eyes from TV sets, to watching their favorite shows on mobile apps. Others say that native ads will continue to see significant momentum, offering users even more seamless experiences.

These mobile ad types and others could even lead to consumers instilling their trust in advertisers. Who would have ever thought we’d see the day that this happened? But, it’s happening. And the industry is just getting started.

What are your predictions for the future of mobile advertising? And, more importantly, should I text “I think I love you” to my boyfriend, or tell him in person?

Natalie Lynn
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Natalie Lynn

Natalie is a digital content marketer specializing in digital content strategy and social media management. She also has an affinity for mobile ad tech.
Natalie Lynn
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