Random Acts Of Ad Clicking

It was a choice between watching digitally altered Chihuahuas or spending 90 minutes clicking on mobile advertising.


Guess where I went.

Now mind you, in my academic heyday I was an up-to-my-eyeballs-in-BS cultural and media studies professor. I had students spending an hour doing Gertzian "deep readings" of a 30-second high-fiber cereal spot (you don't want to know). My lecture on Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Great Depression culture took two sessions to get through. I proudly called myself an "intellectual slut," never above getting down with every conceivable "artifact." I used to be able to deconstruct and culturally contextualize just about any piece of pop culture ephemera students tossed at me. But when faced with "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," I admitted interpretive defeat. There is no meaning here. This is the closest thing to a cinematic black hole I have seen.

"But Dad, you're not going to work. They are so cute. Lookit!"

"Honey, they are kinda silly," my partner chimes in.

Ten minutes into this DVD, I realized the third increasingly attractive path led towards putting my eyes out. So, I hit the decks.

I do this sort of random spot check on mobile advertising now and again just to see how the ad ecosystem looks to consumers. Is the overall ad experience getting any more consistent? Apart from individual instances of smart campaigns, is the media and banner ad platform building a set of positive expectations? Decent creative?

This log is deliberately unselective. I went to a relatively random set of mobile sites from major publishers to see what dialed up.

Advertiser: Perfect Escapes
Banner Experience: A scenic view of a quaint town decently scaled to be visible on mobile: "Perfect Escape. Need a Vacation?" Fair call to action in conversational tone.
Clickthrough Experience: The landing page explains concisely exactly what I am going to get in a single screen -- a newsletter sign-up with travel deals. The landing page graphics flow consistently with the banner, which conveys a comfort through continuity.

Destination: Huffington Post
Advertiser: JG Wentworth
Banner Experience: Just a cheesy text link squeezed between the HuffPo navigation menu and the headline, reading "Settlement? Get Lumpsum $ NOW!" Didn't know "lumpsum" was one word.
Clickthrough Experience: The ridiculously ornate JG Wentworth logo masks the usual lump sum payment scheme. "We understand it is hard to wait for your future payments." Suddenly I feel as if I am on the Web circa 1997. Here is a case where the quality of the advertiser undermines the content brand.

Destination: ZooVision
Advertiser: MeetMoi Dating on the Go
Banner Experience: The too-colorful creative also takes me back to an older generation of Web ad. I understand that mobile video is a favorite of young males, so I guess we can call this ad targeted, although I see the brand everywhere on the mobile Web. A silhouette of young lovers about to kiss at least is tamer than the usual call dating service.
Clickthrough Experience: The landing page has no creative continuity with the banner itself, which gives me the uneasy feeling of having been funneled into a generic landing page. It confronts me with a phone number form and much too little explanation of this service for meeting singles. The marketing material seems to assume you already know how all of this works, and there is no assurance here about how MeetMoi will and own't use your number. Maybe I am just too damned old for this.

Destination: ABC News Mobile
Advertiser: ABC News Mobile
Banner Experience: The simple ABC News logo and earth image sit atop a too-small prompt to "Start here." Actually I like the iconic simplicity of the art combined with the instructive call to action, except for the....
Clickthrough Experience: In a kind of "Groundhog Day" moment, this house ad for ABC News Mobile on the ABC News Mobile front page clicks through to (you guessed it) the same ABC News Mobile front page. Does that even count as a clickthrough?

Destination: NBC Mobile
Advertiser: Art Institute
Banner Experience: Logo and stylized text: "There's a school and an exciting future near." So the ubiquitous education banners that eat up remnant inventory on the Web are starting to sup on mobile. The banner is tasteful, with a perceptible line drawing.
Clickthrough Experience: While the landing page gives the most basic outline of what the Art Institute has to offer I like that it gives you three ways of contacting them: a click-to-call, a location-specific form to get more info, and a quick one-line email form if "You don't have time now." It is a small thing, but this is one of the few mobile ads that actually acknowledges the possibility that the user is too rushed to pay attention this second.

Destination: Kotaku video game blog
Banner Experience: Truth in advertising: the content brand's logo and a car that lands you on... .
Clickthrough Experience: The CarandDriver mobile site, which is a superb in its use of images and simple navigation. This is one of the few mobile media ad campaigns that I see outside of house ads at mobile media sites, and for car nuts the site is enough of a landing experience to sell the product without any pitching.

Destination: Disney Mobile
Advertiser: Disney theme parks
Banner Experience: A pleasant script typeface invites you to vote for your favorite Disney love song. I mean, come on. I am not a fan of Disney's Chihuahuas, but I did live through thousands of viewings of "Beauty and the Beast."
Clickthrough Experience: The landing page reiterates the creative and lets you vote to get instant feedback on the current results. And then there is a very nice click-through to a site featuring the parks where dreams come true. That final site is deep and filled with multimedia. Oddly, the lead to "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was obese with Disney cross-promotions. And yet, when the format demands, these guys do know how to market. This set of banners is a full-bodied ad experience. For the interested it lets you stay in the Disney loop as long as you want, and always gives you something interesting to look at. Hmm, maybe these guys should design theme parks.

It is amazing how many mobile ads you can rifle through in 90 minutes when you are desperate to avoid the screen. This is only half of the original log, but a few lessons come from skimming the mobile ad landscape.

The system still is clogged with some crap even at branded media sites. Of course there are still dancing mortgage celebrants on CNN's homepage, so we can't fault mobile too much. But clicking on a mobile ad is an iffy thing. Mobile users don't know yet what to expect, so if the publishing brand can ensure quality advertisers with quality end-user experiences, it elevates both the ads and the content.

Creative consistency makes a big difference in the experience. I liked and recalled the landing pages that reiterated the banner creative in some way and made me feel as if I was getting what I thought I would.

Creative sizing is an issue. Is anyone actually looking at how these ads appear even on a larger mobile screen? Some of the text is silly small.

Think beyond the landing page. One thing that both Disney and the auto advertisers seem to get is that interested mobile users are willing to drill deep and find out more. Even if advertisers are looking to convert on an immediate landing page, those who are serious should have some sort of deeper informational experience ready for the curious.

And finally, targeting is hard to discern. From the perspective of individual campaigns in case studies you may be able to cite instances of targeting in select mobile campaigns. Slip outside the mobile marketing bubble, however, and from a user's perspective I saw very few instances where ads felt that they were in any way improving the experience with relevant information. On the whole, the ads too often just feel randomly networked.

Again, to be fair, the same can be said about the Web generally. Advertisers and publishers focus on cases and technologies of targeting that actually are far ahead of common practice. But I recall in the early days of mobile advertising, we were promised something better than the Web: less clutter (which was achieved out of necessity) and greater utility and relevance, which is not apparent so far.

"Honey, look. The Chihuahua army is facing down the marauding cougars."

Unless you are desperately avoiding a screen full of dancing, hopping, mugging Chihuahuas. Then and only then is every mobile ad a relevant escape from "family DVD night" hell. I really was rooting for the cougars.

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