Commentary

The Summer Of Like

Maybe spending a few days in the Haight in San Francisco softened me up a bit, but lately I find myself encouraged more than I am disappointed in my mobile travels. Mobile content clearly is improving demonstrably in recent months in its design, mobilized information architecture and even ad executions. Perhaps I am seeing my various cell phone decks through rose-colored glasses after revisiting the Summer of Love. Maybe someone spiked that black bean burger I wolfed down at lunch. I am even willing to cut Google a break. Somebody stop me before I hug a hedge fund manager.

Someone at Google must have been sampling the acid a bit when the company launched a test of display ads on YouTube Mobile this week. "It will give you a new way to interact with content on the go," product marketing manager Christine Tsai claimed on the Official Google Mobile Blog. I'll have a hit of what she's having. They slapped a banner ad on top of the YouTube Mobile main page. Only in Google land is that considered adding value.

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To be fair (and following my newly minted loving spirit) the Mountain Dew ad that seems baked into the top of the page is a decent execution. The call to action for winning prizes lands you on its "Old School, New School" campaign, where you find and enter codes from Pepsi products. What I like about the landing page is that it offers some real content, albeit hidden. The "Prizes" button on the site clicks through into details about old and new youth-oriented product icons like video games, sneakers, and old and new Corvettes. Beneath the leaden design sense and the incredibly inarticulate button descriptors there is, lo and behold, added value.

This reminds us that the best landing pages off of mobile ads engage the user with additional content. I think as time goes on we may find that mobile clickers have a somewhat different intent or expectation when they try a mobile banner than they do when clicking a Web ad. In some cases they may be responding to a direct offer, but in others they are simply exploring. Because of the relative sluggishness of mobile networks, the lack of multitasking, the sheer focus, I think mobile clickers expect to be more engaged on the other side of the click, an expectation marketers need to satisfy. There is an opportunity to engage and reward the interested with deeper content when marketers start thinking more like content publishers.

Some of the better ads and landing pages I have seen in recent weeks are attached to the NBCOlympics WAP site. The VISA campaign is superb. The banners are stylish invitations to learn more about four current and legendary Olympians. The landing page gives you the option to get text profiles or dial in for short audio clips about Phelps, Lukin, Jim Thorpe or Dwight Phillips. The gold-hued monochromatic imagery throughout the banners and the landing page communicate a sense of legacy, and the sponsor is giving users more of what they came to the site for to begin with. The Coke banner campaign on NBCOlympics.com takes a similarly themed approach that rewards the clicker with good visuals, international versions of the iconic can, and trivia snippets about the relevant country.

Clever and giving campaigns like Visas and Coke's also serve to make the rest of the field look frowsy and intrusive. Compare their approach to the DirectTV banners that also cycle in to the NBCOlympics site. "Four Months Free DirecTV, call 1-800... ." Good Olympic Spirit, that. And I would love to tell you how NBC's own parent company GE managed its "Imagination at Work" banner campaign at the site, but with Olympic-sized irony, the links were broken when I last tried them.

Blame the ad networks? Well, maybe. If marketers need to think more like publishers when creating mobile campaigns, then publishers need to think more like publishers, too. Any site anywhere is accountable for its advertising, both its quality and technical reliability. But like all else, the bar is higher on handsets with limited real estate and constrained speeds. For instance, part of Google's "test" of mobile display at YouTube Mobile is truly daring. Let's see what happens with no frequency capping (Mountain Dew is all I have seen in two days) and no creative variety (same banner, all the time). How such a "test" reveals anything of worth to a mobile ad industry is beyond me. Here in Googleland, mind-numbing redundancy is a value-add.

Oops, the drugs must have worn off.

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