Commentary

With Mobile Performance, It Depends...

Now that the first rush of enthusiasm for mobile is maturing into a more workmanlike approach, it is becoming clearer that this platform is not going to be simple to decipher. With such reach into populations, devices, use cases and locations that can be as diverse as existence itself, it's daunting to understand how mobile performs for a marketer at any given moment on any given device, on any given app or site, and for discrete demographics. Two studies released this week underscore just how varied performance can be across the many "mobiles."  

Ad optimization platform Smaato reaches 150 million uniques across 60 networks. In Q1 2011 it served 80 billion ads in 220 countries. The most striking performance statistic in the quarter was the utter absence of consistency in fill rates, which ranged from 69% down to 2%. Only six networks achieved fill rates of 46% or above, and 25 were 20% or below. The average was 20% compared to 28% in the year ago period.

The massive growth in volume explains some of the drop in fill rates. The number of nets working with Smaato doubled and the average monthly ad requests grew from 6 billion last year to 30 billion this year. What they did find is that as the overall volume has increased, more networks are become specialized in various types of media or targeting. These nets, often with smaller volumes, are performing better. As an optimizer, Smaato has a vested interest in metrics that accentuate network variances, so regard the stats in that context.

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Click-through rates also vary across device. Smaato finds that Windows Phone users are indexing considerably higher (143) in clicking on ads than iOS (103) and Blackberry (71). Android ads are way under-indexing at 55, although in part this platform may also be enjoying the most volume that is less targeted. The general pattern is repeated when you look at the U.S. market, but Windows Phone indexes slightly lower (134), while iOS indexes a bit higher (117). Both Android (66) and Blackberry (65) lag far behind.

Without more specific demographic and focus group research, it is hard to say how and why we might see such varied responsiveness across ads. This all may even out over time or we may see different devices actually maintain distinct profiles in terms of ad receptivity.

In its first of a now-monthly metrics report, ad tech provider Jumptap found that iOS had the highest CTR, nearly twice Android's. But the Google platform has greater reach now, responsible for 39.1% of ad calls vs. 29.8% for iOS. Demographics also affect mobile ad responsiveness tremendously. Jumptap finds that the 55- to 64-year-old segment activates ads at a rate five times that of college-age users. Income, too, seems to be tied to CTR, with people making under $50,000 averaging a .37% CTR and people making over $50,000 at .83% CTR. So are device profiles more important to planning a campaign strategy -- or just demos that reach across devices? Can't tell from this report, but this is the next obvious question to ask.

Just as a churlish aside, when the mobile Internet and apps finally become the dominant source of digital traffic, can we move to tap-through rates?

Finally, Jumptap says that any presumptions we might make about the superior engagement of apps may be wrong. In fact, in their network, users make 39.3% more ad requests while browsing the mobile Internet than when they are in apps, suggesting they are spending more time in browsers than in apps. There is some corroboration of this idea from the iPad, where a new survey from Business Insider shows that Web browsing is far and away the most popular activity on the tablet.  

Whatever happened to the notion that the hopelessly fragmented mobile world of five or six years ago would be streamlined and standardized by smartphones and apps? By its very nature, mobile just adds layers of new variables to any planning. So long as mobile reflects the diversity not only of user but of technologies, location and use cases, it will present marketers with a mass of moving targets. But hitting the right target at the right time with the right message in the right place, will register remarkable engagement.    

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