Mobile Is Still About The Fun Factor, So Don't Kill The Experience

by , Dec 30, 2013, 1:30 PM
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Mobile migration is probably the story of 2013. Everything from news consumption to social media to porn eschewed the static and generally inconvenient desktop experience for the convenience and flexibility of devices. The data and targeting industries will be spending years catching up with the accelerated pace of this move.

The tracking challenges of the “cookie-less” device world are exaggerated, to be sure. While the mobile Web poses a problem for tracking and targeting (especially on iOS), various flavors of device and user IDs in the much more popular mobile app world are much farther along than we often credit.

Also consider how much mobile activity (Facebook, Twitter, search, email) is also going on within cross-platform environments that reward logins. As mobile ad networks and exchanges scramble for solutions that bring massive scale to cross-platform campaigns, especially programmatic, incumbent media brands enjoy a distinct advantage in the market. Any large scale or powerful niche cross-platform brand like Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, Yahoo, FT, YouTube, NYTimes, MailOnline, Vevo, etc. should be leveraging the hell out of their logged-in user. As a result, these sorts of media entities should be able to supply advertisers with unique insights about multiscreen media habits as well as craft unique surround-sound campaigns. If they aren’t doing so, shame on them. The login should be the new coin of the realm. Even if a publisher doesn’t have scale, it still should have insight into the slice of logged-in users it does embrace. This is the moment when such user intelligence is of greatest value to the market.

One of the misconceptions about mobile is that devices just represent online habits moved elsewhere. This simply is not the case. Devices represent a unique competitive environment for all media. The main culprit in this landscape is gaming. According to a new survey of usage and users from ad platform InMobi, 23% of time spent with devices is going to gaming, almost double the time spent on information and search consumption. The only categories that approach gaming are social media (18%) and entertainment (16%), likely a category dominated by music listening and video viewing.

Smartphone and tablet users are faced with a set of equal icons when they wake up their device for anything but a specific task. Given a choice between Candy Crush Saga and headline check-ups, the fun factor wins much of the time.

Of course, it is not as simple as that. Specific tasks drive us to the handset as often as not. InMobi predicts that the growth in mobile usage in the next year will most likely come from search, email and social media. But that is why external prompts and offline ad and promotional signals are so important to mobile marketing.

Which is not to say that mobile is not also an ad platform. According to InMobi’s survey, 66% claim to be as comfortable with mobile ads now as they are with TV and Web ads. In fact, more users (59%) say that mobile media overall influences their purchase decisions than does TV (57%) or the Web (34%). More than half of those surveyed say that mobile ads have introduced them to something new, and about half have found something nearby via a mobile ad. And 43% say mobile ads have saved them time or money.  

The comfort level with devices has risen so dramatically that 71% of those surveyed expect to buy something on or with their devices in the next 12 months, up from the 59% who say they already have.

The increased levels of comfort and trust in mobile marketing are to be expected. But the nature of mobile usage, still skewed to highly personal and entertaining activities, should continue to give advertisers pause about the perils of interruptive tactics.

As I myself ranted recently, the erosion of the Web experience this past year is mobile media’s best friend. Online advertising went from cluttered and intrusive to downright rude and destructive for me in the last quarter. Mobile is still a relatively uncluttered and efficient experience by comparison.

But crap creep is already setting in. In just the last few weeks I have seen on my smartphone and tablet screens some of the same shenanigans I have on the Web. Marching panes wipe across a newly loaded app or mobile Web page. Some major news sites routinely slap 30 second pre-rolls on news clips that are themselves only a minute, and they do so in front of every clip viewed. That is in my mind an unacceptable ad load, and it gives me pause before clicking on a video at the same publisher app or mobile site. And the so-called “native” ads appearing now in mobile news feeds are increasingly indistinguishable from surrounding content. Color-coded sponsored content has devolved into microscopic icons and labels designed to be overlooked.

As users migrate to mobile, it is important to understand how both their behaviors and their expectations of the experience do not port as neatly as does time spent.     

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