Mobile advertising more appropriate for Asia

As a higher proportion of Asians are expected to access the Internet first via phones, mobile advertising needs more effort and bigger budgets, says panel.

SINGAPORE--Online advertising in Asia is a different beast from the shape it has taken in Western markets, so advertisers and marketeers need to approach it differently for the region, say a panel of experts.

In particular, the Internet users in the region are both younger and have a higher tendency to access the Web via their mobile phones, compared to users in the West.

Speaking at a media briefing during the ad:tech Singapore 2008 conference, Drew Ianni, chairman, programming and senior global analyst at ad:tech, said the surge in Internet penetration in Asia is showing a significant proportion of users forming the pie are under 24 years of age.

According to Ianni, 35.2 percent of users in China are between the ages of 18 and 24, and 17 percent are under 18 years of age. Together, this forms over half of the country's Internet population.

But the budgets accorded to mobile advertising are far lower than that of Web advertising. Citing Japan as an example, Ianni said an estimated US$6 billion has been projected for Internet advertising in 2009, with a much smaller US$560 million for mobile.

Daniel Alegre, Google vice president of Latin America operations and Asia-Pacific/Latin America business development agreed: "It's clear that many Internet users in Asia will be accessing the Internet for the first time on their mobiles."

As a result, said Alegre, companies intending to advertise online need to find a way to reach out to this growing demographic. "Clients will need to find better ROI (return on investment) for mobile ads, more so here than in the United States," he said.

But mobile ads need to be tailored for the mobile platform for results, said Mark Read, director of strategy at advertising agency, WPP digital. "The problem with mobiles is that the tiny little screens don't engage as much [as desktop displays]. Clients find mobile advertising confusing, and in order for consumers not to be bombarded on these small screens, you have to construct the advertising model very carefully," he said.

Read also noted that users in Asia are "more prepared to tolerate clutter" than those in the West, who are more sensitive to intrusions from advertisements.

Google's Alegre said one way of addressing negative reactions to advertising online is to fine tune the metrics such that the advertisements become as targeted as possible.

"Technology can make ads interactive, and provide a one-to-one experience. And if an ad is very relevant, it becomes a form of value-added content. It may come out of the marketing budget, but it's of value. Ads don't have to be intrusive--a small logo on a map advertising your store's location, for example, rather than a pop-up."

But to achieve that deeper engagement with the audience, the advertising ecosystem has to be built up in countries--an area that is lacking in many parts of Asia, noted Alegre.

With the exception of South Korea, Japan and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region, there is a "dearth of local content preventing companies from doing [effective] location-based advertising," said Alegre, referring to advertisements that are delivered to mobiles that could offer coupons and discounts as the user moves into designated zones within reach of the establishments.