MWC: The Mobile Ad Network's View

Alex Spencer

Zac Pinkham (high res)Zac Pinkham, EMEA managing director at mobile ad platform Millennial Media, reflects on another fruitful MWC with four reasons for marketers to make sure they are at next year’s event.

Just a few years ago, the annual Barcelona-based behemoth that is Mobile World Congress was squarely focused on mobile operators and networks. It was all about the traditional telephony services – calls, texts and controlled web portals – that made operators cash rich and all-powerful when it came to engaging their audiences. At this year’s show however, it was evident that the mobile world has moved on to welcome and support a much broader ecosystem.

The GSMA itself set the tone for this year’s event, when CMO Michael O’Hara said beforehand: “We want to engage in a broad industry dialogue.” This means changing tone from the previously defensive stance that was taken by operators to the disruptive internet firms taking a slice of the mobile pie. This year, MWC was about a more collaborative, partnership-based approach.

For brands and marketers looking to engage their audiences through digital channels, MWC has become a must – and we saw many in attendance. However, if you weren’t there this time around, here’s four reasons why you need to clear your calendar for the first week of March in 2015.

Connected consumer brands dominate
Contributing to the swell of 75,000 people across four days, there were two companies (soon to be one) that raised a number of eyebrows.

WhatsApp – very recently sold, of course, to Facebook for a colossal $19bn – made an impact on day one when it announced it was expanding its service to include voice calls. Already concerned about losing out on valuable text revenues as SMS volumes fall for the first time ever and instant messaging services like WhatsApp and Line become increasingly popular, this news had one particular group looking nervous. The giant user base of 450 million people that are highly engaged with WhatsApp means that this popular service could do what others before it – like Skype – have failed to do, and that’s take voice revenues from mobile operators.

Facebook was also in attendance, with Mark Zuckerberg providing one of the show’s keynotes on the first day of the show. However, MWC was about much more than these two consumer brands.

Your peers are there, don’t get left behind
This was the year that MWC really turned a corner when it came to attracting non-mobile businesses that are looking to engage their target audiences on mobile. Throughout the show we had organisations of all kinds, including many of the world’s largest advertisers ranging from the big FMCG players to global entertainment organisations, coming to ask, “How do we best connect with our customers on mobile?”

In addition, the fact that the likes of McCann Worldgroup flew many of its top clients out to Barcelona, hosted a day of seminars and toured its guests around the show to give them a deep dive into mobile, shows the value being put on mobile.

Mobile is driving the data economy
It’s not just increased connectivity that brands and marketers have to contend, of course. It’s the ever increasing volume of rich data being produced as a result.

As well as Facebook, IBM president and CEO Virginia M. Rometty gave an exclusive keynote focused on the cloud and big data in mobile. In plain English, cloud and big data are all about delivering connected services through the web to mobile devices, and then leveraging the mountains upon mountains of data that’s generated as a result. This rich data being created by mobile is enabling brands to uniquely connect with consumers and leverage highly targetable audiences to achieve their marketing goals.

Increasing connectivity is changing our world
It’s not just consumers that are driving the data economy. Another one of the big topics at MWC was 'The Internet of Things', which is about introducing mobile technology such as 4G and Bluetooth into everyday objects so they can communicate with each other. That includes cars, homes and, courtesy of P&G, toothbrushes too.

That’s right, the world’s first connected toothbrush made its debut in Barcelona. P&G’s news was significant as it demonstrates genuine innovation by a global FMCG to put mobile at the centre of its product experience for consumers. What’s more, if a toothbrush can connect consumers then you can bet there’s more to come.

Looking at this topic in more detail, brands and advertisers need to get ahead as increased connectivity with the everyday objects in the world around us creates new ways to engage consumers. The crossover of mobile and food tech, for example, is sparking the interest of big supermarket brands. In addition, during MWC there were more cars in exhibitor booths than ever before. Whatever your business, mobile is very much the core to our increasingly connected lifestyles.

What next for MWC?
As mobile becomes ever more central to our lives and to brands’ marketing strategies, it becomes harder and harder to overlook just how important MWC is. The big stories coming out of the show were far removed from previous iterations, and increasingly we are seeing more collaboration right across the connected services business.

Arguably, after this year’s Mobile World Congress, the event needs to consider an image change to become 'Connected World Congress' as it recognises converging telecoms, media and technology industries in a single digital ecosystem. But regardless of what it’s called this time next year, more brands than ever before are looking to get ahead in mobile.

If you weren’t at this year’s show, I’d suggest very strongly that you reconsider for 2015 and book your hotel now. I hope to be seeing you in Barcelona next March!

Zac Pinkham is EMEA managing director at mobile ad platform Millennial Media.