Greg Stuart: the mobiThinking interview with the new MMA president

• Other news from the Mobile Marketing Forum (EMEA) in London, October 2010:
MMA Global Awards: 2010 finalists with case studies and videos
• Greg Stuart will be properly introduced to the MMA members, when he takes the stand at Mobile Marketing Forum (North America) in Los Angeles, November 17 2010 (mobiThinking readers get a discount for this event)

Who is Greg Stuart?

Where most kids want to be a footballer or a fireman when they grow up, Greg Stuart wanted to be an ad man.
“I always wanted to be in advertising… isn’t that funny?” says Stuart.

Listening to him, 27 years after he joined his first New York ad agency as a media buyer in 1983, it is clear that he’s never lost his boyhood enthusiasm for the ad business. However, he can also be one of its fiercest critics:

“Advertising needs to become more relevant. All that most TV ads achieve is to teach us to ignore all TV ads,” he states. Relevance is a big thing for Stuart and a subject he returns to several times during our meeting.

From 1993 onwards Stuart’s focus switched from traditional to digital media. First on the buy-side helping to set up Wunderman’s digital business, and then jumping the fence to the sell-side, working with Web companies such as Sony, AOL and Cars.com.

Having ridden the digital wave through the boom times, Stuart chose to champion the business rather than jumping ship when the bubble burst. He became CEO of the US-based Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in 2001.

“I headed the IAB from the dark years to the light years,” he says proudly. “It was not a job, it was mission.”

His mission was not just to grow the IAB’s membership, influence and revenues – membership increased tenfold and revenue grew 500 percent over his five-year tenure – but also to convince the marketing world to allocate some or more of their media budget to Web advertising. During that time, spend on Web advertising in the US tripled, which reflects well on the IAB and its leader.

“Web advertising turned out to be the deal of the century,” he states, demonstrating with a graphical sketch how the supply of Internet inventory far outpaced demand from marketers, thus keeping ad prices artificially low.

In the book What Sticks (published 2006), co-authors Stuart and Rex Briggs set out to show what brands were missing out on. They used extensive quantitative research to prove that every extra $1 big US brands spent on online advertising was far more effective than a $1 spent with any other medium. Four years on, it’s clear that Stuart still relishes sharing findings from this work, with the same enthusiasm as proud parents talk about their kids.

The tipping point for mobile

Stuart draws parallels between the mobile Web today and Web back when he took the helm at the IAB. He’s taking over the MMA at a time when the mobile business is still feeling the aftershocks of the banking crisis, but is poised for growth.

“Back then Internet marketing was frustrated by slow connections, bad audience profiling and basic, visually unappealing ads. Mobile is in a similar position today as digital was in 2002, but without the negativity. The Web business was blamed for destroying people’s pensions, as the bubble burst… whereas mobile wasn’t responsible for the recent recession.”

He compares development of the mobile channel to that of a child who has reached the small kid stage, but is still treated as a toddler. As the medium continues to mature, he is keen that it learns lessons and does not repeat the mistakes made in other media.

The problem with advertising

The advertising/marketing business – Stuart uses the two terms interchangeably – generally, has lost sight of its true role. His philosophy stems from the conviction that the original purpose of ads was to provide useful, relevant information to the consumer.

“We [the advertising business] can’t be annoying any more,” says Stuart. He explains that at the IAB, he waged war against the pop-up ad and persuaded the big Web publishers, including Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo, to stop using them and even debated the merits of introducing a charge for sending email to try to cut down on unsolicited mail.

With mobile, too, he believes that the industry – and the MMA on its behalf – should protect the medium. Self-regulation is the best way to avoid legislation, and legislation, he explains, would be a barrier to the goal of making ads more relevant.

“I hope that governments around the world will allow us to make mobile as great a medium as it can be. Brands should have no interest in communicating irrelevant messages. But to achieve this, consumers need to tell us more about them,” Stuart explains. “However there are some people who are concerned about privacy – they believe that behavioral targeting and data collection should be controlled by governments. I don’t want these few people making decisions for the majority.”

This said, Stuart does, believe that the mobile business does have more awareness of the rights of the consumer, than in the Web business. Particularly around SMS, there’s much more of a sense of giving the consumer more control over the opt-in, than there ever was on the Internet. The fact that marketers have to pay to send SMS, which they do not with email, also helps to focus the mind.

Stuart’s mantra is that relevant ads are effective ads. Citing evidence from his book, he believes that many brands run campaigns that fail. Brands should test the effectiveness of every campaign before buying the media, and if they don’t meet the objectives, the creative agencies should be sent back to the drawing board. He pushed for this in online and he will push for this in mobile also.

“I advocate that we should have everything tested for relevance – otherwise we are just teaching people to ignore the next ad,” says Stuart.

Further reading:

• MMA Global Awards: 2010 finalists with case studies and videos
• UN Interview: How the WFP feeds Iraqi refugees with mobile vouchers
• It’s all about the design. Essential tips from user experience gurus
• Guide to mobile agencies
• Guide to mobile industry awards
• Guide to mobile ad networks
• Global mobile stats: all the best in one place
• The insiders’ guides to mobile Web marketing:
Japan, Canada, USA, Germany, UK, India, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Brazil

• Conferences & awards for mobile marketers, with offers
• mobiThinking’s page of essential links

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