The very first online advertisers -- the pioneers of interactive advertising -- did a lot to advance the industry, from providing tracking, targeting and metrics to bringing a new sense of reach and scale to the digital advertising world.
But when it comes to ad execution and how consumers learned to react to banner advertising, they messed up. Flashy, intrusive banner ads -- several of them to a page -- interrupted the user experience. Landing pages with complicated calls to action confused people and pushed them into sales funnels. It ruined the way that consumers think about advertising on the Internet. Why would you click on an ad on your favorite blog or Web site when you know it’s just going to take you away from your current experience?
With mobile, we have a chance to start fresh. We have an opportunity to reinvent the ad experience and essentially "retrain" how people think about brands and their messages as they use apps and the mobile Web. Rather than being an interruption, an advertisement on a mobile device should be something that the user can engage with and then return to what they were doing previously, whether it is reading medical news or playing a challenging game of Words with Friends.
This is particularly important because mobile devices by their very nature are more personal than PCs: from traffic patterns we can see that consumers use their smartphones and tablets in the mornings, evenings and weekends to check email, listen to music, pay bills and plan family trips. These are highly personal digital experiences that users do not want to have interrupted.
But how can mobile advertising provide engaging experiences with branded content without landing pages? The answer is already out there. When Steve Jobs launched the iAd platform in April 2010, he noted that clicking on a mobile ad “yanks you out of your app” and as a result, people learn not to click on them. By placing the interactive and video content within an expandable ad unit, however, and allowing users to close the experience and go right back to where they were, they are offering a level of freedom and politeness that mobile users require. No landing pages, no navigation away from content. So hats off to Apple for creating such a large stage for that kind of user experience: advertising as an invitation, not an interruption.
Now, as smartphone and tablet use reaches that of PCs -- and is on track to surpass it -- advertisers are getting hungry. And rightly so, because mobile users haven’t tuned them out yet, as they’ve done online. As of the end of July, the majority (61%) of smartphone users prefer free, ad-supported apps, and 43% said they were open to receiving in-app promotional messages from their favorite brands once a week. Particularly among the 18-24 and 25- to-34-year-old segments, the mobile equivalent of “banner blindness” hasn’t come into effect yet. Mobile users are increasing in number, and they have fresh eyes, ready to engage with brands on their devices.
With ads that click away, or rather, “tap” away, to another destination, we’re getting frighteningly close to messing up...again.
Let’s do this right this time. Expandable ad units are really the only solution that is good for all three constituents: Advertisers, Publishers, and Users. Advertisers will get better results; in fact, with A/B testing we’ve seen post-tap response and engagement rates up to 10X higher on ads that expand versus those that launch a new page. Publishers will see higher engagement rates as users return to their content immediately after engaging with an advertisement. And users will get the polite, non-intrusive experience that they deserve on their devices, like shopping for a new car on a quiet Saturday morning…with their iPad.