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Why you shouldn't treat mobile like display

Why you shouldn't treat mobile like display Thomas Moyer

Mobile advertising has grown dramatically over the past few years, predicated on the fact that mobile has become the principal place people go for entertainment, news, social media, checking email, and buying things. U.S. mobile ad spending this year will also surge 75 percent to nearly $8 billion, with Google pocketing half of that, according to eMarketer estimates. Mobile ads will account for more than 50 percent of Facebook revenue by year end. Half the U.S. population will be carrying smartphones in 2014.

While these stats will get any marketer giddy about mobile, treating the channel the same way as one might look at fixed web is a mistake some advertisers have done in the past. Depending on the brand, campaign, platforms, KPIs, and so forth, the strategy for mobile may need be evaluated independently as part of the holistic campaign. Due to the nuances of mobile, here are a few areas to take into consideration:

The mobile campaigns and goals

On outbound initiatives, it is important to set realistic goals based on the objective of the investment. Due to the nature of mobile, advertisers need to consider how users engage with their devices and how different their behavior is compared to display.

Mobile users have a tendency to religiously check their phones for social media updates, news, emails, and entertainment much more frequently than desktop. Those mobile users (as the name suggests) will have that device in their pocket or purse and be taking it with them everywhere. Display users are more stationary at work, home, or school and not as "mobile". Not surprisingly, these users will also tend to have very different behavior at work on their desktops versus their personal mobile devices.

With that in mind, here are a few high level suggestions for mobile advertisers:

First things first, have a mobile optimized page
Mobile requires that you not only have the right kind of content, but also a lighter weight landing page that is amenable to a wide range of mobile devices being serviced. Having a site that is too heavy may cause mobile pages to load slowly (or not at all) and may push a user to give up on the page and go elsewhere. Not everyone has the latest mobile device, so make sure people can operate on your landing pages.

Direct response campaign
If your brand is trying to generate transactions, leads, downloads, or any other activity, it is important to think about how a mobile user would realistically complete that action. Advertisers should note that mobile users do not have the same kind of tolerance that display users have for long form fields or multi-step calls to action. This means that advertisers should streamline this process. In some cases, it may be preferable to collect abbreviated details about a user and have him or her complete the rest later (perhaps on a laptop).

Brand advertising campaigns
It is important to understand that the most effective branding units generally aren't likely to be the same type of standard banner unit on mobile web as might be done on display, unless they consist of rich media (with the exception of tablet devices). Generally, branding advertisers will find the most impactful and plentiful inventory through in-app inventory. In-app units will represent a whole new collection of banners, video, and rich media slightly varied from their fixed web counterparts. This inventory is also a large portion of mobile publisher inventory, so it is important to understand all of your options here. For this reason, marketers need to thinking about what kind of call to action and success metrics are most applicable for this mobile environment. For those who haven't run any mobile media before, an ample amount of research and testing will be key to setting benchmarks.

Ad placements

Unlike display advertising, mobile users rely heavily on apps for almost everything. According to CNN Money, mobile devices accounted for 55 percent of internet usage in the United States in January of this year. Apps made up 47 percent of internet traffic, and 8 percent of traffic came from mobile browsers, according to data from comScore. Although total internet usage on mobile devices has previously exceeded that on PCs, this is the first time it's happened for app usage alone. This means that advertisers are going to be focused largely on apps to find their target audience.

Mobile banner, interstitials, rich media, and video may sound like familiar "display" nomenclature but are far from sharing the same nuances. The first distinction has to do with the environment of where a user sees an ad, and while this may seem trivial, it makes a world of difference as to how a user digests content/ads. Most mobile ad networks are going to weigh heavily on in-app inventory, so it will be important to understand the app environment and the best types of in-app inventory to hit your brand's KPIs. Secondly, the mobile ad environment is still in its nascency as compared to display, with far fewer impressions in play (for now) that can leverage things like incentives, app discovery, and others. This means that repurposed display ads (which are generally on websites) for mobile might not work as well unless converted into an app-friendly environment.

In today's mobile space, marketers will find different banner sizes than are common place in display (e.g., 728x90, 300x250, and 160x600). In mobile, due to the smaller screen, you will find ad units that look like the following:

  • 320x50

  • 300x50

  • 216x36

  • 168x28

  • 120x20

Like display, the most engaging units tend to be those that leverage rich media, interstitials, and video. But as mobile has a smaller screen than fixed web, these units are that much more visible.

From a pricing standpoint, these mobile placements will generally see a CPI (cost per install), CPC, or CPE (cost per engagement) model as opposed to the more widely used CPM model in display. With that said, mobile does present a much better opportunity to negotiate these cost structures and rates based on the targets of the brand.


Advertisers who have cut their teeth in the display world (as I have) are very familiar as how display advertisers track the performance of their campaigns. The larger spenders will typically use an "ad server" like DFA, Atlas, MediaPlex, or Mediamind to serve and track their media based on cookies. Unfortunately, those who work in mobile will not have the luxury of using cookies as many browsers, operating systems, and apps don't allow this bit of code to be stored. That means that mobile advertisers will be looking for cookie-less tracking solutions like AD-X, Kochava, HasOffers, and Apsalar. Furthermore, every network used will likely have their own tracking they will want to employ so they can optimize their campaign. Fortunately, most mobile publishers will have existing integrations with the cookie-less tracking solutions above.

The idea of a conversion can be different in mobile as actions like app downloads in the Apple store don't allow for pixeling. This means that the tracking lives on the click and in the app itself via an SDK that fires (post back) once a user fires up the app. Other options include digital fingerprinting and other similar methodologies for tracking users. Similar tracking is employed at the targeting level when advertisers look to retarget or find "look-alike" audiences across mobile networks or across the mobile exchanges. Advertisers will deploy an SDK in their applications to collect mobile information like the Android UDID or iOS IDFA (think unique identifier for mobile). Advertisers don't need to be an expert in this, but you do need to know the basics (or have a mobile agency that does).

Wrapping up

Hopefully, these observations on mobile have not deterred anyone, but I hope they give advertisers some context surrounding the medium when they decide to take the plunge. Mobile is no longer a "nice to have" addition to a media plan but has become a necessity for most brands moving forward. Those in the finance, retail, information, news, and other verticals will need to adopt a mobile and tablet strategy if they are to stay competitive in today's market. However, if advertisers do make the investment into mobile, make sure you are equipped to do so.

Thomas Moyer is the media supervisor at M&C Saatchi.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Overview: In my career, I have touched every aspect of the digital marketing ecosystem as well as every digital marketing vertical. Although my titles don't always reflect the full breadth of my responsibilities, I have had experience in Account...

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