Shifting to Mobile… Kinda

Jim1The IAB released a report this week on the mobile marketplace regarding how it is bought (programmatically, direct, etc.) and how advertising in the mobile marketplace also encompasses possible opportunities with connected devices. The report also shows that advertisers are making a shift to mobile at the expense of other media. About 1/3 of dollars making their way to mobile are cannibalized from other media; what they call “substitution.”

That’s not surprising, given that the mobile device represents an ever –increasing source of media consumption. Advertising on or through mobile has been growing significantly and is slated to continue. But the question advertisers and their agencies need to ask themselves is, are they putting money there because it is part of the media plan that stratifies a strategy built on business and marketing objectives, or is the spending on mobile just because mobile is “hot?” Before plunking down cold, hard cash on mobile advertising, there are a few questions that need to be asked and answered, some of which are good old-fashioned media planning questions, but one of which is pretty simple albeit semi-philosophical.

First, the media planning questions…

1. Target? Yes, if you are an oxygen breather, you likely have a smartphone. But that doesn’t mean that the ads served on it are going to be meaningful to the recipient. Don’t just make the line item on the plan “mobile.” Make sure there is clear direction as to WHO you are trying to reach. Don’t treat mobile as a tactic deployed for its own sake. It might satisfy the client’s desire to see mobile on a plan, but it doesn’t serve a compelling marketing purpose.

2. Reach? Yeah, I know reach is old-school. But it works to establish a medium’s ability to satisfy a business objective. It quantifies the potential impact on a target audience and can lead to some conclusions being made about outcome. This is part of what is called a communication delivery goal. You establish that because it sets the parameters for what is needed to accomplish the business objective upon which the marketing objectives should be based… upon which the media objectives should be based.

3. Spend? This is something that seems easy and is frequently established wholly unencumbered by the process of thought. Planners just plug in a number and back out impressions based on whatever CPM has been negotiated. But that’s not planning. The spending is a product of factors: unit costs and volume. Things like time spent should NOT determine spending. A favorite complaint by the digerati is that the amount of spending on a medium is not commensurate with the amount of time spent with that medium. But assume for the sake of argument that 50% of the target’s time is spent with TV, and 50% is spent with mobile. Assume also that TV’s per unit costs are 2x what they are in mobile. Do I still spend 50% of my budget on mobile and 50% on TV? No, because TV costs 2x. That means if I buy the same number of units in each medium, TV gets 2/3 of the budget and mobile gets 1/3. And this is not even taking into account the communication delivery goal that should really be dictating how many units in a given medium you buy. Maybe I need 2x as many units in mobile as I do in TV to be effective. If that’s the case? You do end up spending equally in both. I know this gets all “media plannery” but there’s a reason the discipline developed over the years.

Now for the philosophical question: WHY?

Why mobile? It’s ubiquity alone is not an argument for use as an advertising medium. If ubiquity alone was an argument, we’d see a lot more ads on toilet paper. There needs to be a reason to use it. And it needs to be weighed carefully because of the unique status the mobile device has in one’s life. Yes, it is everywhere. Yes, that means an advertiser can reach you practically anywhere, at any time. But is that what people want? The mobile device is also highly personal. Advertising on it often feels like an intrusion, sometimes even an affront. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. And for now, the experience remains largely unsatisfying, so the value exchange needs to be higher on the part of the advertiser in order to overcome the emotional boundary being crossed and the limitation of the medium to deliver a satisfying experience.

Mobile is here to stay, and there isn’t a marketer that won’t be drawn to it. But just be sure it is for the right reasons, and it fits a plan, not just something that you do because a client read that mobile is big. You’re the agency, and you represent the client’s interests. Sometimes that means doing what is good for them, not just what they want.

Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.