Another Post on Mobile Ads (Sex, Hotstagram, and Dating)

I started out interning at a mobile games company before the iPhone and Android were ever released in a day when Nokia still reigned Mobile King.  It was also years before Google acquired AdMob, before App Marketplaces, and before Angry Birds.  Mobile gaming used the game console industry as the example, when really it was the exception.  We saw huge licensing fees, learned device market share didn’t equal media consumption volume, and found women drove a new casual games market.  Just like the mobile gaming industry, mobile advertising has advanced since my days, but best practices have yet to be established.  However, we learn best from our failures and there are a few #mobilefails the industry can learn and evolve from.

1. Consumers have fat fingers

Mobile CTR looks impressive compared to online Display.  However, accidental CTR still plagues the mobile industry with delayed screen gestures (clicking instead of scrolling) and placing an X at the corner of a banner that creates an obstacle similar to a desktop user trying to click out of an interstitial on a web page with a cursor the size of a quadrant of a the screen.  Moreover, app and game developers still put ads at the bottom of the screen next to the UI controls instead of opposite screen side in order to negate accidental clicks.  The need for Native is more imperative on Mobile than Desktop as Mobile is one of the last remaining platforms Advertisers can change the opinion of the masses by demonstrating how ads can contribute to an experience rather than distract and hinder.

2.  Incentivized ads ≠ native

‘Native’ in Mobile, contrary to an industry talking head’s belief, is not incentivized/value exchange ads.  Don’t get me wrong; I applaud what startups are doing (and rather successfully) in the space.  However, ‘Native’ should be tied to the experience and platform – unwarranted coupons and offers make an Advertiser look desperate.  My native mobile experience is different when I’m at a Giant’s game compared to sitting on the couch watching True Blood with my dog, Poot.  It’s not all about what’s on your phone, but what’s around you while on your phone.  How can the experience be enhanced with a brand delivered message?  E.g. instead of delivering me a banner ad for an upcoming movie while I’m out Friday night – it should have been served to me as a tip or prompt following my check-in on [insert preferred check-in app] while I was on a blind date mid week to suggest after the successful first date to go to the upcoming movie playing around the corner.  App and Geo-location targeting, two of today’s mobile industry targeting advances, are very 2006ish with app-interest bucketing and snapshot-geo instead of journey targeting.  If I came from the gym and it’s 2pm I do not want an ad about the bar around the corner.  Also, just because I have Instagram on my phone doesn’t mean I’m interested in photography.  It means I’m a terrible photographer and need a filter to make me ‘Lomo hot’ so instead of targeting me ads for babies on mugs – serve me beauty ads.

3.  Online and Mobile are not always the best pairing

To date, mobile ‘brand’ ad units come in the form of :30s full screen video executions both in-app and browser-based.  Full screen video takeovers on mobile conjures up the same feelings a user got when their parents interrupted them having sex.  Planning video on mobile feels sexy and innovative until you get served with one in an inopportune time.  Your fingers are too fat to hit the X in the corner, you start sweating, your boyfriend/girlfriend asks you why a video is playing when you told him/her you were just checking work email while they told you about their day, and then you have that brand to thank for salting your game.  So how does an advertiser utilize mobile without pissing off users?  User-initiated is a good start.  User-initiated enabled ads dramatically decrease an Advertiser’s potential reach, however would you suggest auto-play full screen pre-roll to an Advertiser nowadays on Desktop?  Companies like IntoNow and Shazam are marrying TV with Mobile in a more intent, user-initiated way and create a great opportunity for video ads.  TV and DOOH act more like PB&J with Mobile than Online in most instances, yet Advertisers still deploy mobile ads as an extension of Online rather than of ATL activity.

Industry conversations harp on low fill rate of mobile and how it’s a major indicator of its foreseen demise.  However, I see it as an opportunity to remain selective in creating ad opportunities with brands in more native ways rather than trying to develop more ways to serve banner ads to increase fill rate.  Perhaps the real ‘savior’ of mobile is more in the backend.  If Native is truly the way forward with Mobile then we need to spend more time discussing the (less sexy) operational theories for success.  Mobile startups should focus on create tech and platforms to streamline media, creative, dev, and planning teams for mobile leveraging APIs and SDKs, which will in turn create better advertising.

Further Reading:

VentureBeat on Native

Opera’s Mobile Report (note the fill rate numbers)

Dan Greenberg on Native Ads in AdAge

Hotstagram (NSFW. Bringing The Hot or Not revival to Instagram)