How many years have been “the year” mobile advertising finally catches up to the massive growth in consumer time spent on mobile? As you marinate on that question, take a second also to reflect on how often you’ve read the headline that “this is the year” digital advertising dollars finally catch up with the amount of time consumers are spending with digital media. It’s become a cliché at this point.
(Spoiler alert: digital advertising still hasn’t caught up with the amount of time people spend there.)
“Who cares!?! Have you seen how fast mobile usage is growing!??!?!!”
I’m not saying that mobile won’t continue to grow. As many industry trades and pundits have pointed out, mobile continues to be a factor for driving growth in advertising, and is estimated to make up 8.4% of ad spend by 2015.
That said, before we see yet another chart that shows the time spent on mobile vs. the advertising spend on mobile, can we please take a breath and admit that maybe the problem isn’t that advertisers don’t want to be on mobile (they do), or that it wouldn’t be great for advertisers to be on mobile (it would). Maybe, just maybe, the problem is that consumers hate mobile advertising. Pause, and let that sink in for a sec.
The new reality of the smartphone-powered consumer prompts the need for a reality check. If we want to get serious about getting mobile advertising working, we should be willing to take a hard look at the three biggest places mobile advertising fails:
Situational context: Yes, people might not like advertising on any platform, whether TV, radio, tablets or PC. But mobile presents a different problem. With true mobile (excluding tablets), many times people are in situations not conducive to interruptive advertising. Think going for a run, the two minutes before someone shows up for a meeting, looking for directions on the way to a meeting, etc. Most of the situations have time constraints, so the bar for someone to consume any message other than the one they are looking for is very, very high. Which leads to the second problem….
Pricing: Decent message delivery in mobile requires the whole screen, which is a very interruptive experience on a device as intimate as your phone. For people to be willing to tolerate that, the value they get from a publisher had better be extremely high. Even at the highest CPMs today, publishers can only extract pennies from advertisers, so why not just have people pay? It’s not worth it to cause a dollar's worth of negative experience for pennies in value. I can almost hear folks crying, “That’s why the ads have to be so good they don’t bother people!!” Well, that leads to the next point…
Canvas and creative: Making great mobile applications is hard. Not only do you have a very limited canvas for interaction, but you have to design for iOS, Android, Microsoft and account for multiple screen sizes while doing so. Success in mobile marketing -- think Nike+ -- necessitates significant investment in product design and iteration. The reality is that companies are not investing in mobile advertisements in the same way because their lifespan isn’t as long, and because there is very low expectation that people will look at them in the first place (see points one and two above).
Performance marketing will work in mobile, as will branded products a la Nike (though only to an degree, as there are a lot of apps competing for attention, and only a few see regular usage). Yes, there are exciting mobile advertising breakthroughs such as programmatic buying, mobile video, and improved targeting that have caught the attention of our industry, but none of these factors have yet to move the needle. Mobile advertising as we know it today will not work. But, great news: I can save this headline for next year!