The tipping point came in the summer of 2013. For the first time in its history, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project reported that a majority of Americans owned smartphones. Not just cell phones, mind you, but actual smartphones.
With so many consumers fully invested in mobile, it should come as no surprise that there is a proliferation of rosy projections for the future of mobile ad spending. Gartner recently predicted that the global ad spend on mobile would reach $18 billion this year, while eMarketer reported that brands across all categories are seeing big increases in mobile advertising budgets. But with so many brands set to spend so much money, it's worth asking what it takes to get mobile right.
Think mobile, act mobile
It may sound obvious, but the first thing a mobile campaign needs to be is mobile.
"It's so basic, but it's so often overlooked," says Kate Farley, VP of business solutions at Hipcricket. "Advertisers need to make use of the device's benefits when mobilizing their ads. Repurposed desktop ads miss the mark because mobile has its own unique characteristics: targeting, interactivity, gyroscopic ability, camera, etc. Mobile ad content must reflect the fact that the campaign will live on a mobile device."
But that doesn't mean you have to go overboard. Leveraging mobile can be as simple as using geo-targeting to localize the ad, or it can have a wow factor like augmented reality. In the end, a good mobile campaign is not about maxing out the capabilities of the device so much as it's about putting mobile in the driver's seat by thinking about your message from a mobile-first perspective. If you can explain why this campaign must be mobile, chances are you're off to a good start.
Understand the mobile context
Context is everything when it comes to mobile. Unfortunately, you can't predict the variety of ways people will access your mobile content. They could be in the car, walking, in a noisy restaurant, or sitting on the couch -- one eye on the television, one eye on their phone. Let's be honest, you may even be reaching your target audience while they're in the bathroom.
"Marketers need to understand the mobile user's atmosphere," says Kia Zokaei, a former agency producer who is now the CEO of Duo. "Someone should be able to understand the ad at a glance before they look back up to see where they're going."
To make sure that your mobile message is able to cut through the clutter and compete for the user's often-divided attention, Zokaei has a few rules of the road.
- Think call-to-action, not sentences.
- Give them a reason to click. "More info" is usually not good enough because it has to be worth interrupting their current experience.
- Be mindful of copy size. Designers create ads on retina displays, but not everyone will view the ad on the latest phone. So keep resolution and degradation in mind.
- Avoid eyesores. Too many things moving on the screen screams spam.
- Test, test, test. The only way to get it right is to test messaging and see what truly resonates with the audience.
- Make it relevant. Know where your ads are going to display and tailor it accordingly. Your messaging should change depending on where it appears. If it's popping up while someone is playing a game, that's very different than if it appears while someone is reading an article on TechCrunch.
Understand your core objective, build your brand
An ad campaign without an objective is like a plane without an engine. It may look like the real deal, but it's rather pointless, and ultimately, it just won't get you where you need to be.
"The most important thing is to understand a client's core objective for each piece of content or each campaign that's developed," says Catherine Davis, president of Vizeum. "Until now, mobile content has tended to focus on driving conversion [as opposed to] building the brand through a more emotional connection. But given the one to two minutes of downtime that consumers have multiple times a day, we believe there is a huge opportunity to better leverage mobile to build brands."
While branding might seem like a big leap for such a small screen, Davis says there are already traditional brands out there that have embraced mobile for its branding potential. Her personal favorite is an app from the luxury department story Bergdorf Goodman. Vizeum didn't make the app, but Davis calls it a good example of "clean, beautiful mobile content that creates desire and builds the brand."
"What makes the app so great is that its sole purpose is not e-commerce," says Davis. "It's a highly emotional and image-driven way of delivering editorial guidance to shoe lovers, like me. With an incredible understanding of their target consumer, the brand has found a way to utilize mobile at its best. Do I buy the shoe every day? Certainly not. But Bergdorf's is the first place I look to when I'm in the market for some fabulous footwear."
Think local from a local's perspective
When we talk about mobile, we often spend a lot of energy discussing the potential for lining up mobile with a local ad play. While there's nothing wrong with that concept, marketers might be better off thinking about the connection between local and mobile from the user's perspective.
"Local relevancy is the top reason mobile consumers engage with mobile advertising," says Bill Dinan, president of mobile call measurement provider Telmetrics, which recently conducted the "Mobile Path to Purchase" survey along with the xAd advertising network. "In the same study, mobile consumers cite location, local offers, and promotions as the top reasons for ultimately making a purchase."
But making an ad local isn't just a matter of local targeting. Dinan advises brands to add local identifiers and include addresses and local phone numbers in the ad so that it's clear to users that the ad really is connected to their location.
Optimize by device
When we think mobile, it's easy to become fixated on the iPhone. But the truth is that iPhones account for a relatively small fraction of the mobile device market. For most of the world, Android is the number one operating system, and Windows and BlackBerry can't be ignored. Unlike with Apple, the dizzying array of phones that use Android or Windows means screen sizes, capabilities, and other important features can vary dramatically. And then there are tablets, which present yet another wrinkle on the mobile experience. So what's a marketer to do with such a fragmented mobile landscape? "Optimize," says Harley Orion of L7 Creative.
"You can, and should, optimize your ad by device," says Orion. "Smartphone and tablet users have very different viewing styles, so why provide the same ad for all of them? Tablet users spend much more time on each page, and can interact more easily with rich media. Mobile users are more likely to be on the go, and respond to localized or flash offers."
Be smart about rewards
If you're looking at a mobile campaign, chances are you've probably heard the R-word more than a few times.
"Rewards are a great way for brands to connect with users in the mobile space," says Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip, which works with hundreds of major brands across a network of more than 1,200 mobile apps and games. "But the key is to deliver that reward at a serendipitous time when the user is in a really good mood."
Rather than putting a condition on a reward or dangling it like some sort of carrot, Wong says the best performing rewards come as little surprises when users accomplish goals they were motivated to perform anyway. For example, if an advertiser wants to offer a reward to users of a game, Wong says they should do so when the user "levels-up" to a high score, rather than promising the reward before the level begins.
"Marketers really need to be conscious of a user's emotions," he says. "If you're trying to perform a task or entertain yourself with the app and the brand interrupts, it's just annoying. But if you've achieved something, you're happy and the reward makes a lot of sense."
But the hardest pill for marketers to swallow might be Wong's insistence that they forget about reach and frequency. Giving rewards, after all, is about hitting a window, not knocking on the door until someone answers.
"If you ask someone out over and over again and they keep saying no, you're just going to annoy them," says Wong.
Look for natural breaks
Even if you aren't offering rewards, it's important to time brand messages to coincide with natural breaks in a user's mobile activity, says Chris Cunningham, CEO and co-founder of appssavvy.
"The natural break is the time in each application that lends itself best to seeing brand advertising during a pause, loading, or on your way out," says Cunningham. "It's the time that isn't considered interrupted. Every application or traditional publisher has a natural break, they just may not know they have one."
According to Cunningham, making the most of the natural break in activity means giving up on tactics like small banner ads at the bottom of the screen or pre-roll.
"Outside a natural break you are interrupting what the user is there to do," he says. "We have all visited content sites and large interstitials drop down and force us to stop what we came there for. It can be really frustrating and outright annoying. With natural breaks, you are focused on the timing or what we like to say, the when. As a user you are already expecting a break, so it's more polite."
Don't ignore programmatic
Just about everywhere you look these days, people are talking about the rise of programmatic buying. While we tend to think of programmatic as a wave sweeping across the online space, the fact of the matter is that it's just as important in mobile, says Matt Young, director of mobile for BrightRoll.
"The most successful mobile video campaigns that have run on [our] platform have been executed programmatically, either using a private marketplace of super premium publishers or using the pricing and targeting efficiencies of the open marketplace," says Young. "Using a programmatic platform to execute mobile video campaigns allows marketers to maximize performance metrics like completed view rate while minimizing effective CPM."
Online metrics like the completed view rate have long been an important concern. But when you consider that mobile users don't always have the same reliable internet connection they have at home, or that they may just be more likely to put down the phone to cross the street, order another beer, or change the channel on the TV, it suddenly becomes critical for advertisers to make sure they're only paying for the content users actually see.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
Image via Pttrns.