Money Follows Money: The Exploding Finance Category Signals More to Come

According to a new piece in its Mobile Intel series of reports, Millennial Media says that the finance category grew exponentially throughout last year to end up being the top vertical worldwide in 2011 on its ad network. With a growth of 300% in spending throughout the year, the category raced past perennial leaders like retail and restaurants and entertainment. Insurance was responsible for 42% of the mix, followed by 28% to banking, 16% to financial services and 20% to credit cards and services. Millennial’s research comes from its own ad network as well as data from research partner comScore.

In my mind, this is just the starting gun. The accelerated use of m-banking, m-commerce and eventually m-payments in the next year will make mobile an indispensable channel for marketers. Mobile enthusiasts persistently whine about the spending gap on this platform -- how consumers use so outpaces ad spend. Lord’s sake. Were these folks not around five or ten years ago when the same complaints were made about ad spend online? Sure, ad money follows eyeballs, to a degree. That is what TV is about. But on interactive platforms, where direct marketing still overwhelms brand plays, money really follows where consumers actually spend. When consumer spending begins to occur on devices in the same way it did online within the last decade, advertisers ignore it at their peril.  

The most striking aspect of the finance vertical is its laser focus on lead generation. While some bank ads are moving people to their own banking apps and toward increased foot traffic to branches, credit cards are as usual favoring broad brand awareness. Millennial finds that 70% of the campaigns it is running in this vertical cite lead-gen as the goal. Only 16% claim they are after sustained market presence, 7% foot traffic and only 4% brand awareness. To be sure, the fact that insurance services are the leading advertisers in this category in some way determines the heavy lead-gen focus. Millennial says there is some difference between most world markets and the Euro market, where greater emphasis was placed on sustained presence. But overall, the finance category is aiming at the lead.

According to Millennial finance, advertisers most often used content (34%) as their targeting approach, followed by tactical (27%) targeting mainly of devices and local (24%). On the back end, it is not surprising, given the lead-gen focus that the post-click tactics are aimed at conversion. While only 31% of mobile ads on the Millennial network move users to placing a call, 51% of finance ads do. But most often -- 54% of the time -- these units are aiming for enrollment of some kind, versus 36&% of all mobile campaigns.

As one would expect, Millennial is issuing this report as a way to argue that financial advertisers should be spending more on mobile advertising and to diversify their campaigns into higher-funnel opportunities. As mobile banking becomes one of the more popular uses of smartphones, the entire banking sector will need to push ever more people to account management apps and to maintain a presence on the platform to remind people to use them. Millennial says it has seen users gravitate toward the known and trusted brand when making their insurance and financial services choices, suggesting that there is much more to be done on the branding side to grab people as they assemble a consideration set.    

Obviously, with this report Millennial is both detecting and trying to get in front of a significant shift in mobile media spend that will come as a result of the m-commerce and m-payment juggernaut. Years ago, I recall a number of analysts insisting that the real money will start coming to mobile marketing when you start seeing people manage their finances and spend money from their phones on e-commerce. When consumer dollars start flowing through these devices, the stakes go way up and the business case for putting advertising in that path become too obvious to ignore. That is pretty much what is starting to happen now.

Millennial’s report is a good bellwether of what we will see in coming years, especially as m-payments kick in. Will the brand money move here in the way that ad networks and publishers would like? Well, maybe. M-payments and mobile wallets especially will be a good incentive for the partnered credit card companies and banks to maintain presence. We are twenty years into Web advertising, and the lament over the lack of branding dollars seems as loud now as I remember it in 1999. But whatever the campaign goals and the tactics, if the last decade has taught us anything, it is that money follows money.   

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