In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Gulati pointed out that television, radio and out-of-home advertising has had decades to flourish and establish robust environments.
“In contrast, mobile is still a developing and highly fragmented space that still has room to grow,” he added. “But the biggest change I’ve seen is the fact that in the last year or so, the entire ecosystem is really starting to come together for the first time.”
These developments range from technology companies launching better solutions to mobile-centric talent now sitting within service providers and agency side as well, with agencies setting up specialist shops with mobile directors leading the charge.
“Clients themselves are also restructuring to accommodate mobile in their strategies,” Gulati said. “Marketers are beginning to take notice.”
He added that the marketing ecosystem is finally catching up to the mobile story on the consumer side, which for years has always been “ahead of the curve”.
“There isn’t a market in Asia where mobile penetration is below 50 percent,” Gulati said. “While Singapore and Hong Kong are in a different league, in emerging economies like Indonesia, Thailand and India the usage statistics are shooting through the roof and are starting to create real impact.”
While three years ago the questions was around whether mobile was the right medium, giving the adoption and infrastructure disparity across Asia, today it’s more a question of how best to leverage this channel.
“Everyone is convinced that mobile is the future today,” said Gulati. “Now the question is around ‘how’, and there are many types of advertisers at different stages.”
There are the mobile-first companies in verticals such as gaming and commerce that “get mobile” and devote the bulk of their resources and spend to fully optimising the platform.
Then there are the early movers, which are typically companies whose businesses revolve around mobile and thus are ahead of the curve, such as telcos and electronics OEMs such as Samsung.
Lastly there are brands under the consumer packaged goods (CPG) category that are mass market-centric, and want a stake in every touchpoint.
“They’ve done tonnes of TV, print or radio advertising but are starting to move toward more one-to-one messaging,” Gulati said. “Away from broadcasting to a more personalised and targeting approach.”
But despite the high levels of interest, the challenges still lie in finding that balance, where monetisation efforts through advertising and non-intrusive user experience can reside in harmony.
Gulati said that what many don’t realise is that the long tail on mobile extends much further than on other media platforms.
“Unlike with websites where the top 10 publishers account for the bulk of traffic, on mobile things are more fragmented,” he said. “There are millions of apps available for consumers who are used to getting access to content for free, but the developers behind these apps still have to make money.”
The need to monetise has resulted in uneven user experiences as creators seek revenues post-launch.
“But I believe the ecosystem will find that balance quickly,” he added. “Just look at the new ad formats being introduced that are much more flexible, and greater awareness about user experience on mobile being crucial. We’ve come a long way from SMS-based stuff in the early days.”
Opera’s next act
The Oslo-headquartered company lays claim to being the world's third-largest ad platform after Google and Facebook, reaching 1.1 billion people.
It’s mobile advertising subsidiary, Opera Mediaworks, contributed 64 percent of the company’s total revenues of US$146 million in Q2 2015.
Gulati said Asia Pacific is one of the fastest growing regions for Mediaworks, having given guidance that the unit is on track for US$600 million in revenue for 2015.
“Since our APAC launch in 2014, we’ve expanded to 10 countries in the last 10 months with dedicated operations in markets like Seoul, Australia and China,” he added. “We’ve grown from a four-member team to 34 people across the region.”
In addition, Gulati said that the company will be “doubling down” in Asia for the coming year, ensuring it has the right talent and capabilities in place to meet its growth ambitions.
One of the company’s priorities will be in video, with solutions such as its Instant-Play HD SDK (software development kit) for in-app video ads, which aims to plug what Gulati described as “one of the biggest gaps in the market” today.
Powered by AdColony, Instant-Play touts a better user experience, where video ads always play instantly with crisp picture, regardless of connection strength or device type.
“The product line we’ve got is really built around an advertiser’s pain point today,” he claimed. “One of the biggest challenges is how do you make sure that you’re delivering the same experience on mobile, as you do on television.”
This is especially critical in markets such as Vietnam and Indonesia where there is inconsistent telco infrastructure, which results in slow, laggy experiences or instances where videos do not load at all.
“Getting that video to play with the same quality and viewing experience is a massive game changer, especially for brands looking to get a foothold in such markets,” Gulati said.
The company is also active in helping establish industry standards and norms around viewability, and recently announced that its solution has been integrated with Moat Analytics, providing advertisers with the ability to transact on viewable in-app video impressions.
Gulati said that although viewability standards have been set for desktop inventory, an industry standard has not yet been finalised for mobile. That has not precluded the growing number of advertisers and premium publishers who want to buy and sell mobile in-app ads based on viewability.
“So with this integration, we are certified and audited to give advertisers peace of mind,” he added.
Another area of focus is native advertising, and Gulati believes that the rise of ad blocking and industry discussion around the issue serves to bring to the forefront awareness about how the user is taken care of.
“The problem is exaggerated, as mobile marketing is growing immensely,” he said. “What it’s highlighting is that it’s high time publishers and advertisers work on improving the experience, and we’re working on products that will help in that regard.”
The last area of focus is on user acquisition, with Gulati pointing out that many providers or partners focus on “softer metrics” such as clicks or impressions.
“But marketers are not in the business of buying clicks or impressions,” he added. “It is about talking the right language to marketers, sitting down and saying ‘tell us what metrics are important to you that impact your business, and how can we work to deliver on it.”
“In this manner, you then become critical and central to marketing plans. You become a partner and part of the business equation.”