Playing The Click-Through Dummy

Stop me if you have heard this joke from the last decade 20 times already, and probably from me in multiple forms.

An ad technology salesperson walks into an ad agency and says to the receptionist, "I would like to speak with the person in charge of designing Web display advertising for your company."

"Speaking," the receptionist replies.

The state of mobile display advertising is at about that level today. Too much repurposed creative is being squeezed onto mobile Web pages with ridiculous results. Few taglines even seem to acknowledge that you are seeing the ad on a phone and a specific call to action might be in order. Finding a noticeable and appropriately formatted banner ad on a mobile site often seems like a relief from the units I see rendered on many sites in all different miniaturized sizes. I still run into banners that are already too small to read, rendering in half sizes on some major media sites because something in the tech went awry at some point.

Granted, part of my job is to play the crash-test dummy for mobile marketing, spending too many evenings poking into mobile ads as my family watches the DVD. "How much of this movie did you actually see, Dad?" my daughter asks as the credits roll for "Men Who Stare at Goats."

"I saw enough to know it wasn't very funny? Does that count?"

"You're not even watching," my partner complains during "It's Complicated."

"I wasn't buying Meryl Streep and Alex Baldwin as a couple from the beginning, and if she doesn't stop giggling through her lines, I am stopping this DVD."

Luckily, Hollywood creative right now is at about the level of Web display advertising, so I can get away with this for a while.

But mobile ad creative is radically uneven. For instance, today MSNBC.com and Hilton are touting a huge unit and full site sponsorship on the redesigned mobile MSNBC home page. The ad is impressive only in its sheer girth. The unit has an image of a Mexican resort on the left that is too detailed to be expressive even in this large format and on a touch-screen smartphone. The tagline "Stay Hilton, Go Everywhere" makes me flash to last season's "Mad Men," which featured a relationship between Conrad Hilton and Don Draper. "Don," I can hear the actor's voice resonate in my head, "I expected a lot more from you."

The Hilton ad wastes so much space on being big that it leaves the explanatory text scant and too small, and unconvincing. It shills the 530 locations in 76 countries. So this is a big ad telling us, well, Hilton is big. The click-though experience is worse. To move from the large graphic unit to a stock, text-driven Usablenet m-commerce page is a letdown for the consumer who thought Hilton was initiating a richer mobile experience. Well, for that you can download the iPhone app, although the uninspired Hilton landing page isn't going to tell you anything about it.

The presumption of this ad is that the barren messaging and uninteresting creative in the oversized ad unit was enough to convince you to book with Hilton, so let's get started, shall we? So here was have an example of a mobile ad that seems to be large for large's sake. Is this the mobile variant on thinking an ad is just too big to fail?

Interestingly, the more effective approach was a diminutive ad I found recently on the CarandDriver.com mobile site from GMC. The tag "Don't Tell Small It Can't Do Big" simply echoes the larger campaign for its new Terrain vehicle, but the headline is bold and red enough to draw attention, and it maps perfectly with the mobile experience. The payoff is a touch ironic, because you land on a GMC page overwhelmed by a single enormous image of the new car in motion, coming towards you. It is a simple little visual contrast of idea and image that is multiples more effective than Hilton's oversized but uninspiring creative execution.

For all I know, the GMC creative was just repurposed from a Web campaign, but so what? In this case the visuals, messaging and landing experience worked perfectly in the mobile context to get me intrigued about the product. Which is the mobile breakthrough here: taking over a site with a big-assed ad that doesn't do much for the brand, or using standard display dimensions to initiate a more seamless consumer experience that communicates product features and brand qualities along the way?

My simple point here is that mobile marketing benefits from the more focused attention of audiences to this platform. Attention is heightened, everything is more noticeable, and every click matters -- so the consumer has to be regarded as something more than a click-through dummy who is just opening another window on his desktop. These campaigns need to think harder about the full experience a user is having -- what you are telling them implicitly and apart from the explicit messaging. What are you going to do with their full attention now that you have pulled it from a pressing task, oncoming sidewalk traffic, or family movie night?

"You were distracted during the one funny part," my partner complains. "Alec Baldwin was flashing his thingie to Steve Martin over the Webcam."

Kinda glad I missed that, actually.  

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1 comment about "Playing The Click-Through Dummy".
  1. Carin van Vuuren from Usablenet , April 29, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

    Hi Steve,

    Interesting point. Our main goal in extending Hilton's website to mobile is to streamline the most important functionality for travelers on the go. You're right in that the iPhone app is a more colorful and visual experience, whereas the m-commerce site strives to be an easy-to-use, function-based site that supports all mobile phones, not just those with touch or Flash capabilities.

    Cheers,
    Jason