Among Other Problems, Mobile Advertising Is Mostly Boring

Mobile video might be responsible for a big chunk of Facebook’s revenue, but Menlo Park’s finest is pretty much the only company really killing it in this space. The big problem for everyone else is that while mobile video viewing is on a relentless growth trajectory as tablets and smartphones become the de facto form of content consumption, mobile video ad spend just hasn’t caught up, leaving reams of unmonetized impressions.

The mobile revenue vacuum is the result of a lack of innovation, not because there is any doubt of just how incredibly important it is for engaging consumers. We just need to appreciate it for what it is, rather than what we think it should be, and to bring some customization, creativity and consistency to what is still a nascent industry.

One of the main reasons advertisers have only tentatively put their dollars into mobile advertising is because the formats are unexciting ports of desktop mainstays.

The display banner, a format that’s been derided as ineffective and of negligible worth on desktop for the last five years, accounts for more than half of mobile ad spend. This isn’t due to some miraculous increase in its effectiveness: it’s due to a real lack of alternatives.

But 320x50 banners don’t excite advertisers. When we look at video – which only accounts for around 10% of spend – we’re only now starting to see mobile publishers innovate around video ad units that are purpose-built for the channel.

Facebook led the way with its newsfeed autoplay ads, and Snapchat and Twitter have followed suit with their own native video formats.

We’re now seeing a lot of talk about ‘vertical video’, which highlights how the evolution of the way users want to consume content inevitably drives the way advertisers have to deliver creative.

Consumers watch a lot of linear video on mobile devices, so there’s undoubtedly still a role for traditional pre/mid/post-roll ads.  But it’s essential we don’t just try and transfer our tried and tested 15- and 30-second desktop standard creative lengths onto a channel where attention spans are far shorter.

Again, it’s important that formats cater to and align with the user experience requirements of the channel.

Contextual targeting is generally considered secondary to behavioral targeting across both desktop and mobile advertising. While the discussion of that hierarchy on desktop is for another day, the lack of contextual targeting on mobile is criminal.

On a mobile device the user is completely engaged in the content they are accessing. It occupies the entirety of their attention and creates a scenario where advertising that isn’t contextually aligned to what they’re consuming is incredibly jarring.

It’s important we accept that mobile advertising will always be considered more invasive on a small screen than it is on a big one, so every effort should be made to smooth that transition between content and creative.

Arguably the biggest problem affecting mobile advertising is the lack of support for cookies, preventing advertisers from targeting known user profiles. The walled gardens of Facebook, Google and even Apple enable ‘people-based marketing’ across multiple devices by assigning advertising IDs to registered users, but this deterministic solution, while powerful, siloes inventory.

Advertisers want to bring their own first-party data to bear on an open, high-volume pool of users, and create operational efficiencies by buying through a small number of platforms as opposed to many. That requires platforms like Facebook to open up their data (no chance) or to embrace a probabilistic approach that looks for common anonymous characteristics in a user profile to track across screens.

The problem is that the latter is currently only 50-70% accurate, which just isn’t sufficient for most brand marketers.

As we all chase the relentless growth of mobile video, we must ensure that a lack of innovation doesn’t kill the dream. We need to do away with attempting to port formats, while in turn making mobile ads more relevant and easier to track cross device, if ad spend is to follow suit and we’re to eliminate unmonetized impressions.

We just need to appreciate mobile video it for what it is, rather than what we think it should be, and to bring some creativity and consistency to what is still a nascent industry.
1 comment about "Among Other Problems, Mobile Advertising Is Mostly Boring".
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  1. Jordan Greene from Mella Media, October 5, 2015 at 12:41 p.m.

    While I agree that the demand is not close to the supply on mobile video, advertising on the intimate mobile phone does not require video to be interesting.  We have all seen boring TV spots, so on the phone, the need to engage is only higher.  Technology can make these ad units more appealing to would-be buyers.  However, the lack of attention to the ad and the offer itself is the limiting factor.  At Mella Media, we continue to see the absolute need for a real value exchange with the consumer for effectivness.  With relevancy at an all time high in this medium, not reflecting that in the ad is wasteful.  Further, there are many ways to get at that relevant component, if you understand mobile.  Blaming the lack of cookies is the same painful, lazy "arguemnt" that has been used by advertisers--and writers--for five years now.  This conversation needs to move on.

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