Mobile Users 'Get' Ad Creative, And So Should You

Can an online display ad make you cry?

Well, sure -- when the creative is as crushingly poor as most of the advertising we have been seeing since the dubious invention of the "banner" in the mid-1990s. It makes me tear up a bit, if only in despair over the lost opportunity.

It is hard to deny the standard refrain heard from conference stages again and again: digital creative generally has little emotional weight. "Can anyone remember a digital display ad they have seen recently?" is the typical scold we hear from countless panels decrying the sad state of creative... for a decade now.

The risible click-through metrics that plague the display format continue to tug creative in the direction of direct marketing appeals. As a result, and despite all of the lip service to the Web's unappreciated branding power and rich media potential, we still have an entire medium that resembles back-of-book magazine classifieds.

Mobile has the opportunity to change that, if for no other reason than that the smart phone screen may be small, but it gets our undivided attention. In some surprising research from Microsoft and Mediavest, to be presented tomorrow at the ARF Convention in New York, mobile users say they really do take notice of ad creative -- and reward it. In an online survey of 1,000 mobile users, the study solicited responses to four ads, two highly interactive iPhone units (peel-backs, drop-downs, etc.) and static mobile Web banner ads on smart phones. The aim was to understand what creative elements really seem to register with mobile users.

The most striking result of the study is that both iPhone and smart phone users overwhelmingly identified ad "design" as the element they liked most about the ads surveyed. On the iPhone, between 62% to 63% identified design as the chief attribute, compared to 56% to 60% of smart phone users. Design overall was much more important than the product offered or the promotion, although those two latter qualities seemed to stand out more in the static smart phone ads than in at least one of the iPhone ads. "It's fascinating," says Jamie Wells, director of global trade marketing, mobile advertising solutions at Microsoft Advertising. "Conventional wisdom suggests that consumers are very rational and carefully weigh the product and the offer. But this study reveals that consumers are very emotional and that the colors and the pattern [of the ad] are more appealing than anything else."

And it is not only design, but clarity and simplicity that matter most to mobile ad viewers. For both the iPhone interactive ads and the smart phone static ads, the viewers put a premium on the color combinations, the design of the text and logos and simplicity. In other words, they want the same thing from their mobile ads they seek in mobile content: the eye-catching, the clear, the easily munchable. The smart phone ad viewers were more concerned with the personal relevance of the ad as well, but across the board, simplicity and clarity won the day.

Wells likens mobile creative to SMS and search text ads, in that both formats present tremendous communications challenges. "It increases the pressure on marketers to be disciplined and focused," he says. In fact, users may punish brands who overlook the KISS principle. Survey respondents ranked most ads' "legibility" (presumably, the lack of that element) as a factor they most disliked about the creative. So, yes, as if anyone needed to say this, formatting and scaling to screen size really does matter.

Keeping the user in context is also important on a number of levels. On a scale of 1 to 10, users rated most highly their dislike for ads that bumped them out of the current content, but they also felt just as strongly that the ads should be relevant to the app they are in or to their interests.

Curiously, mobile viewers were not especially turned off by ad animations, but they are also not fond of full-page takeovers. Mobile users also have a strong sense of scale when it comes to mobile video pre-rolls. When asked about the ideal lengths of video advertising across platforms, most identified 16 to 30 seconds as appropriate to TV, and six to 15 seconds as right for the Web. But 63% of respondents said that 1-5 seconds was appropriate to mobile video ads. While consumers seem to recognize the value exchange necessary to get their streaming media for free, they expect the creative to get smaller as the display size shrinks.

But for media planners, the biggest takeaway from the Microsoft/Medivest study is that different creative executions map to specific places on the purchase funnel. By a slight margin, interactive ads appeared to inspire viewers to in-store test/find out more about a product (30%) and go to the store or online to buy the product (36%) than did the static banners (27% and 29% respectively). And yet the non-interactive ad units engaged users to consult family and friends about the product (23%) or to use their mobile browsers to research (25%), more than did the interactive units (21% for both activities).

The differences may be slight, but they are suggestive. "That can inform how we plan mobile media," says Wells. "If we are planning on driving people through the purchase funnel, then we might pair static ads with a mobile search campaign with broadly matched terms, with a type of car, as opposed to rich-media interactive, which may relate to people searching for specific models."

But ultimately, the key metric for mobile marketers is the high awareness their audience has to good and bad ads. Awareness is heightened on this platform, and that works both for and against marketers. Among iPhone users, for instance, 39% recalled seeing 16+ ads in the past month on their phones, while 41% of smart phone users recalled seeing 5-15 ads. They are watching. They reward creativity, relevance and simplicity. And my guess is that they will punish brands that try to go mobile and get it wrong on this platform.

The good news is that your ads are no longer invisible here.

The bad news is, your ads are no longer invisible here.

2 comments about "Mobile Users 'Get' Ad Creative, And So Should You".
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  1. Kevin Tynan from University of Illinois at Chicago, March 25, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

    Design is the key element in mobile advertising.

  2. Julie Low from PureRed Creative, March 26, 2010 at 11:42 a.m.

    Great article! With the arrival of new methods for reaching customers, like mobile, user experiences are at the "new and intriguing" stage. This provides marketers the chance to posture client brands as pioneers via fresh creative and interactive solutions. It will be critical to keep the research dynamic throughout the near future. As customers begin to settle into the mobile experience, I believe user habits will change dramatically and quickly.

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