Conventional wisdom suggests that putting a mobile ad as close to the point of sale as possible is, for all the obvious reasons, the smartest local mobile targeting method. Geo-fencing and location profiling are, after all, one of the hottest areas of mobile ad tech right now. We presume that proximity aligns best with either intent or opportunity.
And so when Danny Huynh, senior partner, managing director of Mindshare in Chicago and Greg Hallinan, CMO of Verve Wireless were walking me through results from a recent Radio Shack campaign the other day, one metric they recited had me asking them to repeat it slowly to make sure I got it. The highly geotargeted campaign of banner ads and mobile circulars actually enjoyed higher click-through rates when the user was farthest from a Radio Shack.
The campaign, which ran across Verve’s 3500 local news outlets during holiday 2011 and then again in early 2012, was focused on driving store traffic -- especially around its line of wireless products. Eighty-nine percent of the impressions hit users within a 5-mile radius of the nearest store. But the CTRs actually went up as the radius expanded. So consumers targeted within 2 miles of a store had a .67% click rate, people 2 to 5 miles out had a .7% CTR, and those from 5 to 10 miles out clicked through at a substantially higher .8% rate.
That seems counterintuitive until you get beyond your own intuition. “The ad is a guide for that consumer to find the store,” says Huynh. “The farther they are away from the store the more help they need to find it.” Arguably, people closer to a Radio Shack were already more aware of its location.
In fact, much of the creative for the campaign was not only location-aware but location-specific. Once a mobile site in the Verve network like APNews.com asked permission to use your location, the banner itself could tell you that a Radio Shack is “1.9 miles away,” for instance. Verve employed a combination of GPS, WiFi, content and cell tower triangulation to establish place. But the campaign also targeted by device to determine the audience most likely to need a new phone and contract. The campaign looked for devices that were registered at least 18 months ago.
What is interesting here is how the creative and the geotargeting turned a banner ad into a user tool. There was the expectation among those who clicked through, I suppose, that they would get directions -- that the ad would act as a guide. Hallinan says that this phenomenon is not unique to the Radio Shack campaign. As counterintuitive as it seems at first, it makes a lot of sense, and they are seeing it across many geotargeted campaigns.
But the issues this raises for creative -- and simply the ways in which marketers think about mobile media -- should be profound. It underscores how much mobile content and advertising really becomes utility. It demands that we pivot away from some of the thinking that dominated banners on the Web. As Huynh reflected on the data: “We have to think about the role of mobile as a utility device, not just as an ad vehicle.” If users already understand that their smartphones are tools -- not just browsers -- then the marketing messages need to align with user expectations.
In future efforts, Huynh is looking for ways of leveraging location more dynamically into the ad creative. About half of the units served in this campaign were e-circulars that expanded out into mini-catalogs featuring just a few items. He and Hallinan said they could look at which SKUs were selling well in certain markets to customize the mobile catalog for those viewers. While click-throughs were the primary KPI for this stage, obviously m-commerce could be another goal.
But the idea that mobile users are bringing even to the banner ads they see a somewhat different expectation, or that advertisers can do things creatively to trigger that expectation, seems to me compelling. Tying the creative to the broader functionality of the device -- leaving behind the limitations of the Web -- seems to be the challenge for the imagination here. Web advertising and e-commerce, search, etc. took shape only as we came to understand the very task-driven sensibility behind desktop Internet use. Mobile is not just the Web made portable. There is a different sensibility we as users bring to the device. Ultimately, all channels of communication on this platform need to decipher this medium that has its own message.