Why Mobile Banner Ads Will Die
Most of us would agree that at its core, the goal of advertising of any form is to generate some form of intent or interest in a particular product or service. Web advertising in particular takes this a step further, by aiming to cultivate an audience and harness its value for future campaigns. Unfortunately, mobile banners defeat this purpose, by making it impossible to accurately gauge levels of both audience intent and development.
Demonstrating intent on the web is straightforward – all it takes is a simple click. If a user clicks on an ad, you can safely assume that he or she is interested in its content. Mobile, however, presents a unique set of challenges, as intent can’t be proven solely by the act of clicking. In most cases, media buyers have no way of verifying when and where an ad is being placed, or even whether it is being served at all. Due to this lack of industry transparency, an advertiser cannot reasonably assume that mobile clicks demonstrate either intent or interest.
According to a study in IABUK, click fraud can be split into two different instances. First, there are accidental clicks, which result from ads that intentionally impede a user’s ability to scroll or otherwise interact with a screen. Secondly, there is the fraud that occurs when a third party publisher manages a mechanism that artificially inflates click quantity to generate extra cash.
The existence and prevalence of click fraud drives home the point that clicks are an inaccurate indicator of intent on mobile devices. Consequently, brands must shift to measuring engagement if they want an accurate assessment of purchase intent. Among other things, engagement can be defined as the act of watching a video, downloading an app, or entering user-generated content by way of a spec such as an interstitial. These types of engagement can also be measured and optimized at scale.
Conversions aside, one may wonder whether mobile banners provide any of the same utility as their web counterparts. I would argue that they do not, as mobile banners also fail to provide advertisers with accurate information regarding attributions or audience data.
I examined a number of mobile banner tools, and was unable to find a single one that could realistically attribute a mobile banner to a future conversion on either web or mobile. This begs the question of how one can trace real engagement back to a mobile banner with any level of certainty.
Secondly, a general lack of audience targeting capability has significantly lessened the value of mobile audience data. Hence, it is impractical for brands to use banners to generate said audience data, as there is currently no way to leverage it appropriately at scale. This is both a transparency issue and a higher-level targeting issue that will not be solved overnight.
In order to exploit mobile to its fullest, I predict a clear shift to engagement-style ad formats. These innovative ad units will allow mobile users to engage with them without being forced to click or quit what they are doing. There will also be a concerted push for these ads to appear “native,” or blend into the game, app, or site that is serving them.
This leaves the mobile banner ad in an uncertain position. It is currently a staple of many brand advertisers, as well as a number of banner ad networks and mediation platforms. These networks and platforms have raised millions with the expectation that they will continue to win brand dollars to serve banners. However, if they do not begin to offer greater value to both clients and consumers, they will rapidly lose market share to up-and-coming networks that present highly engaging, native ad formats.