Banners, You Bore Me
I spoke too soon, and I think I have to take it all back. I started browsing the new, sponsored world of WAP more intently last week, specifically seeking out mobile display ads to see what the state of the state is. Welcome back to 1997.
The number of WAP pages with banners has escalated visibly recently, as major brands like Weather.com and USA Today have gotten much more aggressive in their mobile sales. Reuters just launched its free mobile news pages with sponsor HP. MSNBC.com and tech partner Action Engine also announced that its successful beta of ad-supported text and video will go official and wide in the fall. MobilePlay is aggregating brands like USA Today, Business Week, Gizmodo, etc. into a user-friendly portal-like experience for SmartPhones, PDAs, and now any handset that can use the brilliant Opera Mobile browser. MobilePlay sells ads into its collection of content, all neatly organized by topics.
The initial run of banners I have seen are as banal as they probably are effective, which is a bit depressing to me. USA Today. was running an Exxon/Mobile logo labeled simply "Special Offers" that clicked into what was, admittedly, a good utility that was customized to mobile. It helped me find a station and outlined rebates and food offers at Exxon/Mobile mini-stores I might encounter. The problem is that the initial banner I clicked into was for Verizon, not Exxon/Mobile, and the creative itself gave me no clue what was beneath it. Logos posing as ads seems to be an early malady of the format.
I recall Tom Burgess, CEO of mobile ad network Third Screen Media, telling me over a year ago that the simplest calls to action are disarmingly effective on handsets. He has seen creative he never thought would get a glance from users enjoy remarkable click-through. Perhaps it is the curiosity factor or the need to explore combined with novelty, but at least in these early stages it seems that we can get away with bland and boring.
MobilePlay apparently sold Acura banners across its aggregated content, because I kept running into the same microscopic banner everywhere I went. The Acura ROX creative was white text on black background and almost impossible to make out. To be sure, my 40-something eyes are now challenged even by the nutritional information box on most grocery store cans, but I swear they were trying to repurpose a Web banner here. If there was a call to action here, I got left back at the camp. And when I did click through, I got a half-page image that looked like an untouched print ad, including more white text I couldn't read.
Who is testing this stuff?
The Acura campaign suffers the same problem as the inaugural campaign for Reuters.com's mobile play. How many pages of the same simple banner can users take? They use the same banner on every news page...every one. Would it have killed them to mix it up a bit? Are we not considering frequency caps on this platform? How seriously is the advertising industry taking mobile, if it can't muster up a couple of different banner types?
I don't care what the initial click-through numbers say, I think we need to be more, not less, creative on this platform than on the Web. If we expect users to invite mobile advertising onto the deck, then the least we can do is entertain them a bit. So far, I am not amused.