Mobile Ads: The Annoyance Issue Re-Emerges

Smartphone-Levi-AdMobile advertising may have moved at a breakneck pace since the mid 2000s, when you couldn’t even find an ad on most phones -- but consumers have not. They still say mobile phone advertising bothers them considerably more than even the annoying torrent of online promotions.

A survey of over 4,000 people in the U.S. and U.K. by YouGov on behalf of Upstream finds that 67% of U.S. respondents found unwanted ads served to their mobile phones and smartphones the most offensive, compared to only 9% who found them most offensive on PCs and only 2% on tablets. TechCrunch published a preview of the research in advance of its wide release.



Mobile marketing veterans will remember a day not so long ago (not long before the smartphone revolution) when the major mobile carriers were obsessive about keeping ads off their platforms for fear of “alienating” users and ruining the user experience. While a nascent mobile ad industry was waiting at the gates of increasingly capable feature phones, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint were sluggish at best about lifting the skirts on user data and letting mobile advertisers in. Survey after survey suggested that consumers did not want ads on phones. Even many in the industry thought it unimaginable only five or six years ago that we would port the same networked ad experiences from the Web to phones. But here we are.

Users seem to become more resentful of ads as the medium to which they are attached gets more personal. And so ads within emails are found objectionable by 47% of U.S. respondents, compared to 39% who dislike ads in apps. The level of dislike in ads on the SMS channel (55%) is clear -- although interestingly, objections to ads in Twitter feeds (18%) are relatively low.

But what to make of such a large and loud verbal rejection of the mobile monetization model that virtually every smartphone user is experiencing every day? Clearly, no one we know of is bolting from their carrier or their mobile OS because of frustration with too many ads.

Well, it is interesting that the level of dislike for mobile advertising is largest in the abstract, when people are just asked about ads on phones generally. The resistance weakens when we drill into specifics with which the user has direct experience. All of which suggests that users are still in principle unhappy with the idea of ads being on such a personal device, but in everyday practice the presence of ads is less annoying.  

Which is not to say that consumers are voicing a knee-jerk dislike of all advertising. In fact, the survey finds that two in three accept the idea that advertising can be beneficial either in surfacing wanted services or in underwriting content. But the sheer volume of unwanted ads everywhere is taking its toll overall Upstream notes. The user wants ads that are relevant. Among UK consumers, for instance, targeting by personal interest, by location and by current context were viewed most positively.

But are the users paying any attention to the ads they do see? This survey found that only 15% of U.S. mobile Web surfers ever recall clicking on a banner ad they encountered. Only about 2% say they click on these ads frequently. And overall, when it comes to banner ads, 73% of U.S. customers say they just find them irritating. 

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