Facebook buys some time but hasn’t solved mobile

Flurry 2011 Mobile Ad SpendLast November after our paidContent Entertainment conference in Los Angeles, I got to talking with a gentleman in the advertising business who went off on a bit of a wine-fueled rant regarding some mobile advertising executives. “They think they can just slap a QR code on a print ad and say, ‘There, that does it, now we have a mobile strategy’,” he said, going on to bemoan how stupid all those other ad executives are but leaving me with an important point.

Following Facebook’s advertising event in New York (covered ably by Ryan Kim here) I was reminded of that conversation. Rather than presenting some sort of new innovative mobile ad unit or technique, Facebook’s first mobile ads will simply be an extension of its Sponsored Stories ad product to the mobile screen.

That’s not really a mobile strategy: it’s a desktop strategy that’s moving onto the mobile screen because of looming pressure from investors and desperate brands looking to reach consumers on their mobile devices, where they are spending more and more time.

As Facebook knows as well as anyone in mobile, with 425 million mobile users and a far-reaching plan to build out the mobile Web, mobile advertising has huge promise but no one really has any idea how it’s going to work. About $4 billion will be spent on mobile advertising in 2012, according to IDC, but display advertising on mobile is a very difficult proposition given the limited real estate that marketers have to utilize. The market is so up in the air that the Internet Advertising Bureau held a contest to pick five innovative mobile ad formats and received a wide range of submissions.

So it’s not entirely fair to ding Facebook for deciding to just move Sponsored Stories into mobile: as Peter Kafka at AllThingsD points out, Twitter is basically doing the same thing. There may not be a better way to reach mobile consumers at this point, but this is something that may not sit well with Facebook mobile users, who tend to freak out when the company changes even the smallest feature.

There is a huge opportunity for someone with Facebook’s size, reach and mobile expertise to develop a killer mobile advertising strategy, much the same way Google(s GOOG) changed the way online advertising was bought and sold with its search engine and ad auctions. Unfortunately, what Facebook rolled out Wednesday falls short of that goal.

What’s true, however, is that the Sponsored Stories move will buy Facebook some time to really nail the mobile advertising experience in a way that turns on advertisers without turning off consumers. Just don’t call it a mobile strategy.