Rethinking Brand Advertising In A Mobile World

As much as Internet prognosticators like to talk about the coming shift to a mobile-first world, the truth is that we’re already there.

Publishers like Quartz, BuzzFeed, and Gawker are seeing a majority of their visitors arrive on smartphones and tablets, and Web sites across the board are integrating mobile-optimized features like responsive design and infinite scroll to cater to these users.

But for all of the effort publishers are exerting to provide readers with the perfect mobile experience, many in the digital advertising industry seem content to retrofit the same tired desktop solutions onto the smartphone environment.

The banner ad has been dying a slow death on desktop for years now, yet brands and agencies continue to pay for a slim space on the bottom of the screen that is even easier for mobile users to ignore. Meanwhile, when other display formats are grafted onto mobile devices, brands run the risk of scaring off consumers with an intrusive ad smack dab in the middle of an article that someone was trying to read.

Simply put, what we’re doing isn’t working. What the industry needs are advertising units created specifically with mobile consumers in mind -- formats that take advantage of the unique engagement opportunities available on smartphones and tablets without damaging the user experience.

Already, there have been some encouraging signs that we are starting to move in this direction.

By employing native advertising on mobile devices, brands have found a way to reach consumers without awkwardly shoehorning an ad into a space where it doesn’t belong and disrupting the user in the process. In placing their message in a publisher’s newsfeed or between stories in an infinite scroll, advertisers give people a chance to engage with them on their own terms.

However, the fact that these ads blend in so well with the content surrounding them is not always a good thing. If you’re scrolling through the newsfeed on a site like Yahoo, for instance, it’s entirely possible that you could go right past the sponsored posts without even noticing that they were there. And even if you were to click on one of them, you would merely be led to a landing page no different from the one you would see if you were to engage with a desktop ad.

On the other hand, a growing number of brands have experimented with interactive experiences that use the sensors built into mobile devices to give consumers an unprecedented degree of control over the advertising they see. These ads respond differently when users tilt, shake, and twist their devices — and so far, the research suggests that people love them.

What we need, then are formats that marry the contextual relevancy of native advertising with the entertainment value of these deep, interactive mobile experiences. 

Imagine that you are perusing the feed of your favorite Web site, and instead of another mundane news story, you are greeted with a native tease for an interactive experience -- one that doesn’t interrupt what you’re doing but instead invites you to play with it.

Wouldn’t something like this -- that respects users’ and rewards their attention with something fun, fresh and exciting -- be preferable to the boring display ads and wallpaper native placements we’re seeing now?

If nothing else, it wouldn’t hurt to try something new. The millions of unseen banners and ignored native ads are proof: mobile advertising needs something better.  


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