If advertising is to work on mobile . . .

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So  . . . if you’ve read this blog with any frequency, you know that Im not really a fan of advertising in general. No one wakes up and thinks “w00t! I CANNOT wait to see my first ad today!” They’re at best a nuisance or a form of entertainment during events such as the Super Bowl. As the digital world transitions from the PC based advertising of “throw the junk out there and see what sticks’ to the contextual needs of mobile advertising, we’re seeing many businesses struggle with click through rates generated from honest consumer intent. A recent post at GigaOm points out that 40% of mobile clicks are accidental or fraud. I personally believe that number to be considerably higher and tend to think of it as a touchy screen.

Recently we’ve seen some businesses (other than Facebook) start to figure out advertising on the mobile device. This piece  by the WSJ  (paywall present), talks about why ads on phones are starting to look more like the images on the smartphone. If you think about Instagram for businesses, it’s simply an enormous pool off image-based ads. More of a soft ad, since no one really wants to be sold anything. Ever.

So what can we learn from these recent successes? Mobile ads need to be contextual! DUH. Images are the future of mobile social! DUH. The real lesson from this can be seen in the success of text-based ads on Google. PPC ads have propelled Google to be the most successful tech business of all time and they have the text-based ad to blame for it. You may think that traffic alone is the cause of Google’s advertising success but more than that it comes down to what I think of is UI consistency. In short:

  • If I’m looking at text, “ads” should be in text. (think Twitter)
  • If I’m looking at Images “ads” should be image-based. (And a soft-sell. When prices were added to images on Pinterest, click-through rates dropped.)
  • If I’m looking at video, your “ad” should be in video.
  • if I’m looking at video I should NEVER use pre-roll. (I had to throw that in there since pre-roll is the most hated form of digital advertising.)
That’s the easy stuff. The real trick is figuring out what do you do for in-app (or mobile web for that matter) experiences? You could follow this simple recipe above but you’d forget the most important element of mobile; context. Just to clarify. Context is:
  • Who you are
  • Where you are
  • What time is it
  • Have you shared your intent (via Twitter, Facebook, etc)

If mobile ads are media specific to the UI AND contextual, they will take off. (Just for the record. A tablet-sized device is not a mobile device. It’s something else and is best for media consumption. An iPad Mini on the other hand is could be used as a mobile device. Media creation and consumption.)

This also means that the ad is “a part” of the app (website). It’s not a free-floating object that obstructs your view/get’s in your way/annoys the hell out of you. It creates a seamless experience. (That’s why the word ad had double quotes around it in my first bulleted list. One where the user isn’t thinking; “this is a great ad”. They should be thinking; “I can’t believe there aren’t any ads in this app.”

I’m excited to see who nails this one first!

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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