jiwireOur interviews with mobile advertising execs recently have unearthed a common theme: They fret that many media planners — the people who decide where to spend advertising budgets — still think of the mobile advertising market as a singular niche market.

That’s a mistake, they say. It’s time to start looking at mobile ads with the same level of detail and audience-centric thinking that has become second nature when buying banner ads and search ads for Web pages, known as “online” ads in industry jargon.

davidcourtneyjiwire“Up until now, mobile has sort of been thought of as this special category that doesn’t fit anywhere else,” JiWire CEO David Courtney (pictured) told me during a phone call today. “The mobile space is going to segment into different audience types.”

Mobile advertising seems to be in the same place that ad banners on Web pages were 10 years ago: It’s seen as a small, cool place to be. Many buyers, say execs I’ve talked to, seem unaware of both the sophisticated targeting available to mobile devices, and the fast growth of the sector. Courtney and JiWire published a long statement on the future of mobile advertising today. I asked him to summarize the innovative opportunity for VentureBeat readers who don’t work in the mobile ad business.

JiWire is trying to digitize out-of-home advertising — billboards, posters, and other media aimed at people who are neither at home, nor at work. A recent study by PQ Media found that Americans now average 44 percent of their time on the go. Advertisers need to reach them out there.

hyattplaceVideo screens in elevators and at gas station pumps are probably the best known digital out-of-home ad media. JiWire serves “ads for access”  — in other words, ads in exchange for free access to WiFi at hotels and airports, even on planes. Instead of whipping out their credit cards, travelers can click to a free WiFi session sponsored by, say, Hyatt Place, a hotel chain targeted to traveling business people.

The mobile space in 2010 will, according to just about everyone with an opinion, grow a lot in both size and sophistication. So rather than thinking of mobile as a singular niche for gadgetheads — “I’ll put 3 percent of my buy on mobile” — media planners need to think about what audience they are trying to reach, and how to reach them. The end result may or may not include a mobile buy. If it does, that buy can be highly targeted. Mobile ads, because of their location awareness and personal nature compared to, say, a desktop computer, may offer even more slice-and-dice ways than today’s online ads to target future campaigns and report on their success.

“Mobile isn’t one channel anymore,” Courtney said. “Nor is it about which brand of device it’s being served to. It doesn’t matter whether someone at the airport is consuming it on an iPhone or a laptop. If they’re at JFK and have an hour before their flight, they’re engaging more with the medium and not easily distracted.”

In general, mobile users seem to be more engaged with everything onscreen, ads included. That’s one reason ad network Greystripe recently told VentureBeat that ads created for Web browsers, but served to mobile phones instead, performed 10 to 20 times better at getting clickthroughs. Now imagine those ads with real targeting.

[Photos: JiWire]