ad formats

3 New Rules for Mobile Ad Formats

Marc Guldimann

Every time I hear about a “mobile format lab”–or a 3D mobile ad that uses the accelerometer and has a clever name like “Buckaroo’s Bucky Ball Banner”, or a mobile ad that tosses usability and content aside for the sake of a cool page-splitting effect–a little part of me dies inside. It’s this kind of creative flair for the sake of differentiation that fragments mobile media and moves the industry further away from the reach and frequency branding requires. Plus, it’s annoying.

Misplaced creativity isn’t the only problem facing mobile advertising, of course, but the current anything-goes approach to ad design and delivery is a real barrier to the medium’s progress. To help get us past that barrier, I’d like to propose three rules for mobile publishers to consider when creating their mobile ad strategy:

1. Mobile ad formats should be behaviorally native.
The best advertising formats present ads the same way they present the content they are monetizing. Readers can switch back and forth between a TV program and a 30-second spot, a magazine article and a full-page print ad, and even organic and paid search results with no loss of concentration. Mobile ads need to have the same capability. Consider how your readers engage with content and try serving them ads the same way.
PROTIP: Unless you work for USA Today, your content probably doesn’t have a close button.

2. Mobile ad formats should be simple.
The ad format’s job is to transfer attention back and forth between content and advertiser message while providing a big, measurable, uniform, blank slate for creatives to get their message across. The more “cool features” that creep into the format, the more fragmented the process becomes. Remember, if you’re the format, you’re not the meal–you’re the waiter. Set the plate down and get out of the way.

3. Mobile ad formats should support dynamic ad load.
Sometimes it seems like the least responsive part of the web is the ads. For most formats, the amount of available inventory is a product of ad slots and page views. When demand is high (or low) for an audience or set of content, the best formats will be able to change ad load, and therefore supply, dynamically. Ads on traditional media are scalable, If Vogue sold more full-page ads than usual, it wouldn’t create a lot of dummy circulation; it would simply print more ad pages. Mobile should be scalable too.

Mobile advertising has the greatest reach, specificity, and analytical capability of any medium we’ve ever had, and right now it’s way underperforming its potential. Across the board we see publishers for whom mobile represents 50% or more of total traffic and maybe 10% of ad revenue. Ad formats alone probably can’t fix that, but they could make a very significant difference. I believe these three rules, and the advertising discipline they represent, would get the industry a lot closer to where it wants–and deserves–to be.

Marc Guldimann is the CEO of Sled, who makes the first behaviorally native mobile  ad format. Previously he was the founding CEO of Spongecell and Enliken. Marc graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Social Decision Sciences and resides in Brooklyn. Follow him on twitter @guldi.