Mobile advertising is deemed complex for the same reason online used to be: Standards are murky at best.

Online advertising evolved because online dashboards allowed agencies to monitor and optimize their digital campaigns in real time. Why doesn't mobile do this?

Online publishers integrate one ad server across their sites, and it acts as a master ad server and manages multiple networks and sales teams. Why doesn't mobile do this?

Answering these questions and applying lessons from the online arena to the mobile movement will make mobile advertising easier to navigate—and allow it to take its rightful place in the digital-advertising world.

Let's talk about devices

Most of today's viable mobile ad servers have detection systems, allowing the publisher or network to target campaigns by device and carrier.

This means that the ad platform needs to have an up-to-date device library that can be referenced in real time in order to serve the correct ad size back to the site. While this doesn't create standardization in the mobile space, detection systems provide a positive ad serving experience.

Now think about agency dashboards

Interactive agencies use dashboard systems (e.g., Atlas or DoubleClick) to manage, optimize, and report on their online campaigns across sites and networks. This works in the online world because of third-party ad servers. (Ringleader Digital, where I work, is just such a third-party ad server in the mobile space.)

Do Atlas, 24/7, Real Media, DoubleClick, and other major online ad servers use third-party ad serving today? Yes—because it's scalable, reliable, and flexible. And yes—because it gives agencies control over their campaigns and publishers control over their inventory.

In fact, third-party ad serving is an online standard. So why is the wheel being reinvented in the mobile space? If agencies want to control their buys in real time, they need to implement third-party mobile ad serving.

Why aren't ad servers in mobile yet?

During online's Dark Ages, ad serving was based on a "server side include" (SSI) architecture, which was abandoned very quickly because it was ineffective. Now, online advertising is successful because multiple ad networks are managed by a single ad server.

Rather than starting from scratch, all players in the mobile space should learn from online's trends. Instead of using different rules to manage several networks to fill inventory, a single third-party ad-serving network can manage inventory across the board, simplifying the entire mobile advertising process.

Some final thoughts...

Bulky computers with limited functionality, poor graphics, and slow dialup Internet access characterized online for a long time. Gradually, the space moved toward small computers with high-res graphics, tons of memory, and unlimited high-speed Internet access.

Mobile began with phones the size of shoeboxes and inadequate functionality, and it has since been transformed into a world of smartphones. Online also began with a complex SSI system and evolved to a successful model of third-party ad serving.

By knowing and understanding online's lessons and trends, mobile ad-serving networks are prepped and waiting for mobile's turn under the spotlight.

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Bob Walczak is CEO of Ringleader Digital (, a mobile ad serving company and publisher network based in New York City.