As I walked through the door into this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I was handed a leaflet promoting ‘The First Toothbrush with Artificial Intelligence’. Aside from the fact that many companies at the world’s biggest mobile conference still rely on printed media to communicate their message, this touched upon one of the challenges that advertisers face when dealing with nascent technology. An AI toothbrush that connects to your smartphone and provides brush measurement data is symptomatic of the Internet of Things that is developing all around us. But how can brands tap into that and effectively reach their customers in a way that is useful or entertaining, rather than intrusive or interrupting? Advising clients on the most effective investment of their marketing budgets and identifying the role that advertising plays in this connected mobile world becomes more complex every year.

It’s not just advertisers that have to navigate this new landscape; content producers and publishers face the same challenge. At a session on VR, AR and the interaction of print and digital, Andy Wright of the New York Times described how with the help of AOL’s recently acquired Ryot, they were creating 360 videos that their consumers could watch in Virtual Reality simply by using their smartphones. Working in conjunction with Samsung, the New York Times now produces a 360 VR video every day. This has allowed them to transport people directly into the different parts of the world on which they report, and to view it on their own terms, from their own home. Bachir Zeroual of Samsung pointed out that persuading people to engage with this content habitually, rather than simply as a one off, was an ongoing challenge. Exactly how advertising works in this space is still a work in progress; Wright advised that any such message should be ‘brand light’, in other words not too heavy handed and as native to the environment as possible.

VR is not limited to just news of course. Adrienne McCallister, Director of Global VR/AR Partnerships at Google, discussed how they were producing and supporting content for sports, gaming and education. Sky launched their VR app in the UK this week, which allows viewers to watch 360 content such as Formula 1 and features starring David Beckham. Google’s original piece of VR hardware, Cardboard, launched in 2014 and has shipped over 10m units worldwide. In Q4 last year they launched Daydream, a more sophisticated headset that comes with a remote control for broader viewing options. Of course, everyone remembers the rapid rise and fall of Google Glass, so it is too early to herald Daydream as the next big thing in VR, but with Facebook also involved via Oculus and the amount of VR content now being produced, it feels like VR (and AR) will continue to grow over the coming years.

Creating 360 VR content is not cheap (although the cost is coming down), so anyone doing it wants to try and maximise the number of consumer views they achieve. On a related subject, Integral Ad Science hosted a panel discussion on Mobile App Standards, with a focus on the need for advertisers to have confidence in how many of their in-app ads are actually viewed by users. Unlike desktop and mobile web, apps are developed by Software Development Kits which effectively makes them an independent digital ecosystem and makes campaign wide measurement very challenging. Jason Cooper of IAS described how, working with the IAB, they are developing a piece of code that they hope all app developers and publishers will implement, which will allow consistent and accurate campaign wide tracking of viewability. Meredith Miller of MoPub admitted that it would take months (at best) for this code to be implemented across the app ecosystem, but it feels like a step in the right direction. Apps make up the majority of users’ time on their smartphones, and as more time is now spent on mobile than desktop, getting transparency and accountability in this area is crucial for advertisers.

On the subject of apps, Mercedes touched upon their own ‘Mercedes Me’ in their presentation on ‘How is Mercedes Transforming the Autos Business?’. Their app is about personalizing the experience for their drivers and helping them perform tasks such as parking the car remotely with their phone. Mercedes owners are becoming more digitally savvy, partly because they are now in fact younger; owners of the latest A Class are thirteen years younger on average than owners of the previous model. As they are more digitally engaged, Mercedes wants to engage with them more regularly than on the occasions when they are actually driving. To do this, Mercedes has developed a European Social Media Hub to provide useful, interesting and entertaining content to interact with their customers.

Personalisation was a theme echoed by Aston Martin in their quest to develop their brand through technology. In a panel discussion, Iain Jacob (CEO of Publicis EMEA) advised that they needed to redefine luxury travel by creating a customised experience both inside and outside the car. Both Mercedes and Aston Martin are clearly looking to create deep engagement with both their existing and potential future customers; any media strategy (including mobile) would need to reflect and complement such business objectives.

Nestlé had a big presence at the 4YFN (Four Years From Now) arena this year; the whole area is dedicated to tech start-ups, whether you are one, looking to meet one, or just to find out more about them. It might seem strange to find a 150 year old conglomerate such as Nestlé mixing in this company, but this was the very topic that their Global Innovation Director, Gerardo Mazzeo, addressed in his presentation. Nestlé are investing time and money in upskilling some of their brightest and best marketing talent, creating a Digital Acceleration Team whose aim is to help drive the business forward from a digital perspective. They have also created a team (HENRi) to connect stakeholders with external innovators and start-ups, in an admission that large companies often suffer from inertia and therefore need to work with and learn from more agile tech-savvy partners.

Another FMCG brand that has had to adapt quickly is Mars. Leonid Sudakov, President of Connected Solutions, talked to Starcom’s Lisa Donohue about the need to embrace disruption as a fundamental business principle. He also touched on the capabilities of data to create a more personalized service or customers – a theme that cropped up regularly at MWC this year across all categories. Donohue discussed a programmatic campaign that Iams had run in the US which had been planned and executed based around data relating to the dog (such as its breed, age and health), rather than the owner. This aimed to tap into the profound relationships that owners had with their pets and hence to resonate more deeply. Such data targeting also meant that the programmatic activity delivered increased ROI. Sudakov emphasised the point that mobile activity should not and could not be seen a nice add on to a media strategy, but had to be integral to it and to deliver against the same KPIs.

It can be tempting to look at some of the more futuristic (and exciting) elements of Mobile World Congress – smart toothbrushes, drones, dresses designed by robots, to name but a few – and wonder how these can be applied to today’s marketing plans. But many of the themes that I encountered repeatedly – personalisation, transparency, adaptability, engaging content – are not limited purely to mobile, or even digital, but apply to businesses as a whole. The right approach to mobile advertising should also be the right approach to all media advertising, and to helping solve business challenges. As mobile (and digital) become more and more integral to brands, it’s imperative that marketers find ways to transform not just their mobile advertising campaigns, but their businesses as a whole.

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