I admit it. I was looking for trouble. After a casual perusal of my mobile Web bookmarks and apps, I was coming on just a few too many bad links, crappy banner come-ons and poor landing pages to resist. And I was sitting in airports, waiting on delayed flights to LAX and then SFO to host the West Coast versions of OMMA AdNets and OMMA Behavioral. So, okay, I may not be in the most kindly state of mind, but I am definitely in the midst of a common enough mobile use case: away from home, stranded in airport.. .pissed at existence.
"Most people shouldn't drive drunk. You, my dear, shouldn't write while cranky," my wife warns over a FaceTime chat from LAX. "I read your emails and texts, by the way. I know this."
"Moodiness heightens the critical faculties," I argue back, because when I get in a mood I also get incredibly self-serving. My curmudgeonly nature was kicking in again (after a brief respite last week) and I was off on another unscientific survey of the uneven mobile ad experience.
"I can tell you are winding up to rant, so better you aim it at them than me. Signing off," she says.
Honestly, it doesn't take much clicking to come away with the distinct impression that mobile ad technology and executions are a work in progress. The glitches in the system just weren't hard to find. But what continues to strike me as odd is how marketers continue to expect consumers to jump through hoops on the brand's behalf -- with very little the consumer can show for it.
What is it with brands wanting to be "liked?" This sudden overuse of Facebook integrations is risible on so many grounds. The very idea that you apply the same ham-handed faux-friendly "like" gesture to a faceless corporation or brand as you would a close buddy or family member, is just weird. Its integration with ad campaigns is just getting irritating, mostly because the advertiser gives you no rhyme or reason to be "liked."
In my TheStreet financial and market news app, for instance, NYSE Euronext has a fugly banner with the branding message "Going Big Time Means Going Big Board." There is a microscopic Facebook Like icon that kicks me over to a Facebook log-in that gets me nowhere in the end. I haven't a clue why I would "like" this brand, and even when I do the only pay-off is getting dropped into my own newstream. By the way, NYSE's is not the only ad to do this. I came upon an Extra chewing gum ad on NBC's mobile site that didn't even suggest in the banner creative that Facebook was involved, but I ended up being kicked into a login for the social network. In what universe do consumers clamor to "like" anything but a handful of truly iconic brands with no rationale or payback for their efforts?
In general I have been impressed by some of the rich smartphone-ready mobile landing pages I have been experiencing on the other side of many banner ads. But I still get some head-scratchers. I understand that Disney/Pixar is and always has been a merchandising machine. But they also do a good job of covering their tracks by making the characters and situation so enjoyable that it doesn't seem as bothersome to have the property show up on every burrito and slurpie cup for three weeks each summer. They are eminently likable, one of those handful of brands I would "Like" on Facebook just to register my appreciation for their creativity. But something about the latest "Cars 2" release feels cheesier and more cloying than usual.
The State Farm partnership with the film makes sense on the face of it (cars, insurance, etc.) but in spirit a buttoned-down and very adult product like this never seems to fit well with the kid-friendly target of the movie itself. And so the rich-media landing page most current banners for the film lead me into starts at a disadvantage, mostly pushing the goods rather than the core film experience
The preoccupation with merchandising here is so pronounced that it makes this Pixar fan wonder how much faith the studio had in the core property to begin with. A carousel of direct links to online stores for buying "Cars 2" goods often lands on full Web pages rather than mobile-friendly ones. Encouraging an m-commerce action without delivering a mobile-ready experience is just stupid.
Even the showtime finder was broken in my use. It claimed there were no shows available in my area, even though the film was in every nearby theater. This landing page is the very definition of being all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Oh, but wait, it gets worse. Just try clicking into the prominent State Farm badge on the landing page, which leads to a sweepstakes. Let me quote fully from the ad copy, because this is hard to believe. "Don't have a special agent name?" the copy asks. "Go online to Disney.com/agents and register. Once registered online you will receive a special name to enter on mobile for an additional chance to win."
I am not kidding. You can't even enter the sweepstakes and get beyond the screen without going through a multistep process online, presumably at another screen. To make matters worse, I found that in order to get the special agent name at the Disney site you have to register a new account with Disney.com.
And another thing. Someone has to explain to me why mobile ads and landing pages give you texting instructions. Generally short codes would work best when they are plastered on another medium like a printed page or outdoor advertising. An ad on a mobile web site vaults me onto a perfectly good-looking landing page for Cumberland Farms. I get a paragraph of instructions for joining and getting free Chill Zone drinks. Then they ask me to text "chill" to 77982. Okay, but I am already using my phone to see your ad. If the code and keyword are on a mobile landing page then the user has to remember both and launch the SMS client to enter them from memory. Again, but to a lesser extent than the State Farm/Disney example, the brand is making me work too damned hard here.
Getting consumers to jump through hoops to enter sweepstakes or get discounts is a longstanding conceit of marketers. I admit that I am not the kind of guy who dutifully saved cereal box tops to redeem. Brands should be working for me, not me for them, is my policy. When the practice is carried to mobile, however -- where streamlining experiences, not complicating them, should be the aim -- marketers are just asking for all of us to get in a pissy mood.