InMobi: Mobile ads a huge draw in APAC

While survey results reveal that smartphone users in region are receptive toward mobile advertisements, advertising networks still find it challenging as emerging markets in particular are bogged down by content development roadblocks.

Mobile advertising continues to be one the fastest-growing advertising platforms in Asia, with two-thirds of the region's consumers comfortable with mobile advertising, while 54 percent are ready to receive personalized advertisements, according to a survey done by InMobi, a global advertising network.

The poll, carried out in September across five key Asian markets, also showed that 46 percent of respondents benefitted from being introduced to a new product through mobile advertisements, while 50 percent were willing to receive advertising in return for free apps, and 53 percent would do it for a lower phone bill.

About 3,500 customers across Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Australia took part in the survey done in partnership with comScore.

In terms of smartphone ownership, Nokia dominates the market in Asia, with Apple's iPhone trailing at 11 percent share and Google's Android OS at 2.5 percent.

Released Thursday, the survey also revealed "impression" statistics, which refer to the number of smartphone users who have seen the advertisements. In Malaysia, 37 percent of respondents were on Symbian phones, followed by Nokia users at 15 percent. Apple had the biggest share in Australia, with the iPhone leading at 35 percent available impressions.

Worldwide, Nokia was seen to dominate the global share of impressions at about 47 percent, with Samsung and Sony Ericsson in second and third positions, respectively. In Asia-Pacific, Nokia again held the lead at 61 percent, followed by Sony Ericsson with 14 percent.

iPhone and Android handsets showed a joint global market share of 11 percent.

Commenting at a press briefing, James Lamberti, vice president of global research, said these analytics present an interesting aspect of smartphone consumerism in Asia, something that media agencies can leverage for greater maximization of advertising dollars.

Headquartered in Bangalore, India, the three-year-old firm is one of the largest independent mobile advertising networks in the world. Speaking to ZDNet Asia, Emmanuel Allix, vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific, said the company's main differentiator from its competitors is that "the firm is capable of optimizing one-sided campaigns from agencies, as well as generating revenue for developers".

Allix also noted that infrastructure and smartphone usage pose different challenges to the advertising firm. In terms of volume of impressions, India leads the pack, followed by Indonesia. However, when it comes to advertising dollars, firms in Indonesia are the most willing to spend, followed by India, he said.

He explained that for these countries, since computers are not the "first screen" of IT usage that consumers encounter, people take to smartphones more quickly than developed countries. Also, advertising gimmicks such as coupons and freebies often attract smartphone users to respond to advertising favorably, especially in emerging markets where consumers have a lower standard of living, he added. These factors affect how advertisers and developers react to mobile advertising, said Allix.

Content development is also another challenge that hinders growth, according to the VP. "Traditionally, advertising has been driven by content players, such as those who create ringtones and games, and they bill the users through the telcos, which take a revenue share of between 9 percent [in Japan] and 90 percent [in India].

 "Obviously, the more the telcos charge, the longer it takes for content players to establish their business," added Allix. This, he said, is crucial to determine how fast the mobile content can grow in a market.

When quizzed about the situation in Singapore, he described it as "interesting".

"Telcos are reasonable, they are not asking for a high revenue share [90 percent]. Consumers are showered with 3G data plans, all the 'players' are digitally-savvy, [and] the conditions are favorable. The only drawback is its geographical size. Singapore is very small. You are never too far away from you computer, and for most people, the computer is their first IT point of contact instead of the smartphone," explained Allix.

While location-based apps seem to be the rage now, the advertising veteran explained that the advertisers are retailers such as F&B outlets or fashion stores, which are keen to go after consumers who happen to be within their vicinity.

"With mobile advertising, they may be able to offer a coupon or incentive for the smartphone user to visit the business", said Allix.

InMobi has yet to enter the Philippines, as the country still relies heavily on SMS or text messages for communication, and telcos there have just introduced unlimited mobile data plans, highlighted Lamberti. The advertising network is eyeing China, but said the market is a whole new ball game requiring talent who are familiar with the local culture and connections.

With just four staff, InMobi is making the new Singapore office its regional headquarters and plans to hire another seven for sales and backroom operations by next year.