Mobile's potential value for advertisers is unlimited. The channel not only enables brands to get a tailor-made message to target consumers, but it can also enhance that message with brilliant creative, when done right.
"Great creative can and should take center stage again with the onset of mobile," says James Lamberti, VP and general manager of AdTruth. "This is a highly personal device, capable of delivering imaginative new creative experiences, that is fundamentally a 'lean back' relaxed consumer experience as opposed to desktop, which is really functionally oriented."
Michael Weaver, vice president of mobile advertising at Phluant Mobile, emphasized the targeting opportunities inherent to mobile. "The cool thing about mobile is that you can put the right content on the right phone during the right time of day," he says. "You can serve a different ad for someone on an iPhone in Seattle when it's raining than to someone on a Blackberry in Texas."
Despite the undeniable potential of mobile, the industry is still working out the kinks of ad serving on phones and tablets. From irritating interstitials to ads that malfunction on your device, mobile advertising simply isn't living up to its potential.
So why is it that we're still seeing so many mobile ad fails? We talked to several experts about some of the biggest irritations in the space and how mobile advertising can and should be improved.
Irrelevant messages and unworthy interactions
As evidenced by the much-beleaguered QR code, if you're going to ask consumers to interact, you have to make it worth their while. That means taking them directly to an offer, not to your website. Your landing page might be beautiful, but mobile users have even shorter attention spans than those on the web. If you don't immediately reward them for clicking on your ad, you'll lose them.
"If you're using a clever initiative, you have to have good execution," says Jordan Greene, the head of the mobile advisory practice at Mella Media. Incorporating a nifty feature into your mobile ad is only half the battle -- it also has to work.
Greene gives a good example of what not to do: "A Nike ad invited me to come see the new Melo sneakers at a location on Broadway in Manhattan -- 0.2 miles from my location. However, I was over 25 miles away when that ad was served."
Coupons, free downloads (ones they want, that is), recipes, and short high-quality videos are just a few examples of potentially worthy rewards for people who interact with your message. Of course, all of these suggestions are moot if they are irrelevant to the consumer on whose device the ad is served. "One of my biggest frustrations," Greene says, "is when mobile advertisers don't use the data -- from the very simple to the very exotic -- to execute their ads."
Mobile pop-ups lurk everywhere -- within popular games and embedded in the mobile sites of many publications. Due to the "fat finger" issue, they often transport unwilling users away from the content at hand. In fact, according to a recent study, 40 percent of mobile clicks on ads are the result of accidental presses or fraud.
"Interstitials work a balancing act between grabbing attention and providing utility," Phluant's Weaver says. "Most people use their phones to accomplish a task -- send a text, read an email, get direction, even, dare I say, make a call -- and they interrupt that task."
Weaver adds that while even interstitials share mobile's built-in targeting value, they are rarely up to the task. "If an interstitial is well targeted to relevant media with an actionable rich media ad, then it can be quite good and effective," he says. "Unfortunately, what you see instead are sorry attempts at branding with poor execution, no targeting, no relevance, and no other call to action other than a click."
Interstitials not only annoy consumers, but they also ignore the rich targeting opportunities afforded by mobile and typically feature lackluster creative. Mobile can simply do better.
"Mobile, unlike its desktop predecessor, is truly global," AdTruth's Lamberti says. "Gone are the days of internet access for only the first-world privileged. Any brand or digital media company that wants a future has to build around the mobile global opportunity now."
There are 5 billion mobile phones in the world, about one-fifth of which are smartphones. Needless to say, not all smartphone users live in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. ranks sixth on the list of countries with the highest smartphone penetration, behind Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Spain.
Although lots of people speak English, it's not the predominant language in many countries, including South Korea and Japan, which account for a substantial chunk of mobile ad spend. However, many companies run all of their mobile ads in English, even in these countries. Why pay for advertising that your audience won't be able to -- or want to -- read? It's worth the investment to have your ads translated into other languages and consider country-specific advertising that will resonate with different cultures.
Location-based mobile advertising, while not perfect, has made it easier than ever to know where mobile users are geographically. Understanding how to speak to them is not much of a leap from there.
The global nature of mobile is changing the economics of the platform itself, Lamberti says. "Strategy and creative will become more valuable for brands in this complex global system, including the widespread use of social media, but media buying itself will become highly automated and much easier at scale globally," he said.
If you're not thinking internationally with your mobile advertising strategy, you're not only behind the game, but you're also missing out on a large chunk of the mobile audience -- and the potentially huge financial rewards that go along with it.
Sending out an ad that doesn't work on your audience's devices
There are still leagues of mobile ads that aren't compatible with the devices and platforms they are intended to be served on. All ads don't have to work on every single platform, but your brand should have an idea of which devices and operating systems its target audiences are on and ensure that ads are compatible with them.
Ad execution errors in mobile are so common that Mella Media's Greene keeps a rapidly growing list of poorly implemented campaigns on his phone. "The classic example is getting an ad on my iPhone that's trying to entice me to buy an Android app," he says.
The likelihood of serving incompatible or inappropriate ads can be lessened by using technology to target by operating system and device, an increasingly common practice that Facebook recently made available for its mobile advertisers. In addition, brands can avoid many ad compatibility problems with extensive testing. After all, a broken or malfunctioning ad will not win any points with consumers.
Inappropriate creative executions
Mobile advertising is a unique medium and demands its own set of creative parameters. It also has its own unique drawbacks. For example, smaller screens translate to the need for shorter, more specific copy. Likewise, when planning for touch screens, designers shouldn't simply replace the mouse on a desktop ad with a finger on mobile. This limits the engagement opportunities a touch screen presents via pinching and swiping. That said, if you're going for a point-and-click approach, make sure that your buttons are large enough. (Apple recommends a minimum of 44 pixels square.)
"The problem with bad advertising formats in mobile is that the screen is so small that poorly integrated ad units are both annoying and disruptive," says Eric Picard, CEO of Rare Crowds. "We need creative formats that are deeply integrated with both the mobile experience and the content experience of individual publishers."
Looking to the future, the industry "needs one set of creative formats that are broadly available to enable brands to get scale in mobile," Picard adds.
AdTruth's Lamberti notes that mobile's creative potential is awesome. "Mobile is a new chance for the digital industry to reinvent the role of creative," he says. "We basically spammed the desktop with 'pop everywheres' and neglected the consumer in the process. Repeating that mistake in mobile could kill the ad industry. We have to respect the personal nature of this device, pay attention to privacy and respect consumer wishes, and build great creative experiences around this reality."
Lucia Davis is a freelance writer.
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