The Year in Ad Ops 2011 – MRAID Specs Released

Even though it’s been the ‘year of mobile’ for the last decade, mobile advertising really did seem to reach a critical mass this year, as many publishers sold some of their first campaigns, and marketers moved more share of budgets to the mobile medium.  From an Ops point of view, this was also the first year for a lot of organizations to come to terms with needing a real process around mobile campaign implementation on both the mobile web as well as in application environments. As it turns out, getting ads, particular rich media ads to work in an app is fairly complex, requiring a higher level of technical expertise than desktop advertising.

Thank goodness then for the IAB’s release of the first set of development specs for mobile rich media APIs, known as MRAID and written in partnership with ORMMA to unify the industry’s approach to in-application advertising and simplify the implementation of mobile rich media.

Why is MRAID Necessary?

Thanks to some of the security features built it to smartphones, a layer of software called a software development kit, or SDK is typically required in the app to allow ads to expand over content, play sound and video, and do other things that are fairly standard in a desktop environment.  An SDK is nothing more than a block of code that a vendor like a rich media company might write to get their products to work in other applications, so the application developers don’t have to write the code themselves.  The problem is that every ad server and network has their own proprietary SDK for publishers to implement in order to get their ads to work, which usually requires an update to get released through the app store, which typically takes a few weeks.

Publishers not only have to do some development work to make this happen, but they then have to ensure that it doesn’t break the app itself before releasing it and then have to support updates to the SDK, basically forever, since not all users will update their apps, so legacy SDKs will stay in place long after a publisher might remove a vendor’s code from the most current version of the app.

So, with all that headache, the IAB took up the challenge to set some standards for SDK development, creating an open standard for rich media APIs to communicate with a mobile device, which is what an SDK does. By standardizing the API code, publishers can hopefully move to an SDK agnostic place, where they can use one centralized SDK that works with all rich media, and not need to support multiple piece of vendor code to enable ads. This is a big deal for the Ad Ops community and the Ad Tech community, who have struggled under the weight of technical problems to get campaigns live and facilitate mobile ad budgets. Hopefully MRAID makes a huge dent in those operational problems, and makes it faster and easier to get campaigns up and running, which should encourage advertisers to put more money to work in mobile.

I would encourage all Ops professionals to demand MRAID compliant apps and ads in your mobile ad spec and with vendor negotiations. The good news is that MRAID has enjoyed wide adoption and compliance from the major players in the mobile marketplace from the beginning, so there is already considerable momentum here.

Read about the other most significant developments in Ad Ops in 2011:

MediaBank & Donovan Data Systems Merger
Adobe Emerged as a Major Force in Ad Tech


  1. Hi Benn,

    This site is like a gift from god, like another reader said its saving me alot of time finding so much info here.

    I’m a British internet entrepreneur who’s spent the last 6 years in Asia and right now the Philippines.

    I’m trying to launch (at first) a small one man ad network for the Philippines and possibly Asia. Although i have studied online marketing for almost 1 year and online ad networks for several months now im still stuck on the actual software to use, i have no idea which one is best for a small ad network with little capital. Can you give me some ideas on which software i should launch my company with, something simple and cheap to start would be good. Anything you can offer would be a huge help to me.

    The business will be focused on the Philippines/Asia geographic, but I’m contemplating which sector to get into, i have 3 options right now that i like.

    1. create a blogging ad network
    2. create a regular ad network
    3. create a ad network focused on apps (possibly even create the apps using a team here in the Philippines)

    Any guidance you can offer would be much appreciated.

    Anyway, back to reading your other posts, going be a late night 😉

  2. Hi Kris,

    Wow, thanks for the flattering words – I’m glad you’ve found the site helpful!

    In terms of your business plan, what you really need is some kind of ad server to power your network. In the simplest form, an ad network is nothing more than a handful of sites whose ads can be controlled from a central ad server. So that would be the first piece of software to look into – DoubleClick For Publishers is probably the largest, and most common ad server used in the US, but you’ll likely find them quite expensive from a start up perspective. 24/7’s Open Ad Stream, Atlas Media Solutions, aiMatch, OpenX, ADK2, ADSDAQ, Adtech, there are tons of options out there. Not to shill, but the sponsor on my site, AdZerk, offers low cost self-serve ad serving solutions as their main business, which you can scale as you need, and I’ve found the technology to be solid. I’m actually using their system to serve their ads on my site, and I’ve never had an issue, so I’d encourage you to check them out as part of your search.

    Strategically, I would say that you should try to specialize on a particular vertical, rather than just create a network with broad reach. The reason being is that ad exchanges will always offer more reach than you can possibly put together on your own, so a better strategy would be to try an build a luxury ad network, or an auto focused ad network, or a travel network, or even something more granular than that. In short, you need to have your own niche, that you can reasonably expect to own, and provide more value than the ad exchanges can. That could be better targeting, unique audiences, better ad placement, a different sales strategy (perhaps selling on CPC vs. CPM), but think long and hard about the value you can provide to an active advertiser base in your region, and why your product will be better than just buying through a DSP. When you mention apps, mobile could be a very interesting space to try and build something as well, but that comes with different technology challenges, and there isn’t as much information out there on how that all works. Of all your options though, I like #3 better than the others.

    Ad networks have grown from a business with low barriers to entry to a highly competitive space dealing with disruption from real time bidding. I think networks can still carve out strong business and provide valuable services, but it’s harder to make it work today than it was five years ago. Asia may be a year or two behind the US in terms of ad technology and trends, but the fact is it won’t stay that way forever.

    Good luck!


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