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?