Coming In For A Hard Landing

Fashionable as it may be right now to beat up on dead-tree-and-ink media for its lack of accountability and ridiculously high CPMs, there is something to be said for the power they brought to context. In a wonderful promotional partnership launched on Monday between AMC TV's "Mad Men" and, the great TV series about '60s advertising culture sponsored the, which features some of the best issues of that decade.

Leaf through just a few pages into any of these issues from the heyday of creative print ads and it will be clear to you how much we have lost in this age of automated ad serving and the digital obsession with direct marketing. Great ads sat next to great content, and the proximity of the best brands and ads in a magazine meant something. Today, courtesy of digital ad wizardry, the front pages of some of the best and most respected sources of online news and weather are host to knuckleheads dancing about their mortgages. While there are attempts here and there to map rich and compelling digital ads against the best media, on the whole the Internet continues to be a woefully uneven ad experience for the user.

Some of that de-contextualized patchwork effect is being extended onto mobile. As the platform lurches forward, the unevenness of the mobile ad experience often comes in the all-important landing page. It seems to me that a brand would want to ensure that a prospective customer gets something more than a three word call to action and then, "plunk," a hard landing on a forms page with no real explanation of what you are getting. Netflix seems to do this regularly. Sign up for a free trial, the ubiquitous bright red banners scream from every imaginable mobile site. Fill in the form, we will send you an email. Are they kidding me? Is the assumption that any customer they would want to have already knows what they do and how? If you are going to pepper mobile Web sites with banners, why wouldn't you craft an educational, brand-building experience at the other end of the click? If you have gotten the consumer to go this far, wouldn't you want to do something more substantial with him?

I understand the importance of brevity on a mobile handset, and I even appreciate that many marketers keep the landing page light and broadly appealing beyond the 3G smart phone set. But I see too many hotelier ads that seem to assume I am already familiar with their brand and am all ready to access my privileged member account or book a room. A recent run of U.S. Navy ads lands me on a page consisting only of two click-to-call links to receive a free DVD. I understand the power of a "call to action," but what do ads like these presume about the slavish responsiveness of consumers?

Some mobile landing pages are well-intentioned but still ultimately frustrating to the interested visitor because of a lack of real content or poor usability. Nestle's Wonka brand of candies has a beautifully designed landing page that lets users participate in a summer-long sweepstakes. I think you enter codes from candy wrappers to "bank them now" and then "play" them from your PC. I have no better idea than you what that means, because the site never really explains things beyond the hint that prizes are awarded every hour of every day. The hot link to the main Web site produces an HTTP error on my iPhone, and the registration form seems to be unhappy with the info I entered but doesn't elaborate why it isn't accepting the input. There is a headline link to "What's Good" that sounds Wonka-licious. But that link simply tells me that not all brands are eligible, and then offers a scroll of brand names? Are they eligible or not? The brands look delicious, but there aren't any links into them to tell me more or entice me to buy. Sorry to pick on Nestle, because on the surface this seems like a nice try at a branded landing site, but it falls apart as an experience one or two clicks in.

In these early days of mobile, I think brands need to go out of their way to reward users for their curiosity. After all, even the most strident defenders of mobile advertising have to admit that targeting on this platform generally sucks for now. The contextual relevance of most of these ads on the mobile Web is pretty vague, and it likely will stay that way for a while. This point is all the more important because of the gulf between brands that are getting it right and those getting it wrong. It is the unevenness that is jarring, because some brands are spoiling me and training me to expect more from mobile advertising than I might get even from the Web.

Dove has a superb landing page that leverages its sponsorship of "Gossip Girl," pouring on the video and image content. I don't even watch this show, and yet I am clicking into the content. Coors Light has a page of mobile tools, like a canned voice alert you can send to friend to join you for a beer or an "Excuse-o-rator" for leaving the office early. I don't even drink and I am playing around with these mobile toys. The new "G.I. Joe" film's mobile site has about five or six different ways it engages me, from an ongoing SMS game/contest I can play, to a live chat room feed of users responding to the film, to a trivia game with a real payoff. While nothing about this movie or the promo actually compels me to see the film, the mobile Web site is a nicely polished example that someone out there is thinking harder about how to satisfy mobile curiosity than most of you.

There is a real opportunity on mobile to correct some of the ongoing mistakes of the Web, rather than merely repeat them. If someone clicks on a mobile ad, why wouldn't a marketer leap at the chance to make the best impression possible and engage that hand-raiser as creatively as possible? If we do to mobile what we have done to the Web, then those click-through rates will plummet just as quickly, and marketers will find themselves having to claw their way back from invisibility and distrust. Why should we expect consumers to take mobile marketing seriously if advertisers don't?

5 comments about "Coming In For A Hard Landing ".
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  1. Harry Webber from Smart Communications, Inc., August 13, 2009 at 1:53 p.m.

    Where is the big mystery here? It's just history repeating itself.

    Radio pops up. A bunch of theartical hacks push the great print witers out of the way and make radio spots. They are terrible. Then comes TV. Make way for the "Producers" who create small kingdoms in the agencies that quickly spread to "Broadcast Productions." It takes decades for the people who know advertising to cut those guys down to size.

    Up pops the Internet. Wireheads to the front of the boat. "Brand preference? pruf! We got Java beans." Online is shit, but trying.

    Now here comes mobile. Nobody knows nothin' but everybody who has a cell-phone is now an expert. Meanwhile the entire industry is in free-fall.

    Will the last person to leave Madison Avenue please turn out the light.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, August 13, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.


    I agree in theory. The landing page does really appeal to the pre-fabricated fan and may not do what it could to sell the film. But in this case, I don't know if there is anything they could do to get me to see this movie. One of the fans on the chat feed said it was almost as good as Transformers 2. That is just about all I need to hear to keep me away.;-)

  3. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, August 13, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

    I agree that there are still many missed opportunities to do a better job with post-click marketing and appreciate the examples of both good and bad efforts. I also agree with Ms. Skaper that the point of the marketing is supposed to convince you to see the film. But why make the comment "click-through rates will plummet"? Clickthrough rates are one of the dumbest metrics we can possibly use. Your click on the GI Joe ads is a perfect example of compelling creative for a product you could not care less about. Novelty clickers have virtually no value to the advertiser, yet as an industry we keep telling everyone that low clickthrough rates equate to bad advertising. Just because it's a metric doesn't mean it's worth talking about or reporting on without further context, such as what happens AFTER the click.

  4. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, August 13, 2009 at 2:38 p.m.

    You asked exactly the right question, Steve.

    From your article, I quote:

    "There is a real opportunity on mobile to correct some of the ongoing mistakes of the Web, rather than merely repeat them. If someone clicks on a mobile ad, why wouldn't a marketer leap at the chance to make the best impression possible and engage that hand-raiser as creatively as possible?"

    We're about to launch an advertiser-created site currently at (working name) for advertisers to not only make a "best impression" but "instantly" engage those hand-raisers on the go as creatively as possible!

    Throughout our development, we have constantly been surprised at some of the major companies in the world and how they've treated the mobile market.

    WalMart's mobile effort is a good example: Directing me to their nearest locations and that's it?

    Very Strange ~

  5. Scott Thomsen from launchmedia, Inc., August 18, 2009 at 11:36 a.m.

    Well done Steve.

    Too often, we as marketers get caught up thinking about the restrictions of a certain media form. We forget that our customers haven't spent the past 2 months thinking about our particular promotion.

    Many times this simply means taking the extra step even with deadline pressures to stop, take a step back and put our customer hat on.

    Mobile is simply unique because of the physical size of the screen. It forces us to edit our message. Embrace the challenge. But remember it’s no different than looking critically at an outdoor ad, e-mail page or POP sign. Simply a different form.

    Scott Thomsen

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