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Mobile Advertising: A Movement or Myopia?

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Increasing attention is being paid to the time spent by consumers on mobile devices, and the resultant bombardment of ads on the mobile screen without much thought about whether it is going to resonate with the user.

Ever since Mary Meeker, the venture capitalist, who produces the tech industry’s most sought-after trends presentation, released a finding revealing a vast gap between the time spent by consumers on mobile devices and the ad expenditure on that platform, media planners have sought to funnel increasing investments to capitalize on the estimated $25 billion dollar mobile ad market.

Time spent in media vs advertising spending
Source: KPCB, IAB, eMarketer

As a marketing consultant in the Ad Effectiveness Measurement division at Nielsen, I’ve measured my share of mobile campaigns for CPG/FMCG advertisers of various sizes. And I’ve often spoke about the gap between eyeballs and ad spend, to showcase the opportunity to reach consumers across screens. A piece of research released by Nielsen caught my eye in 2013. The global ‘trust in advertising’ report surveyed 29,000 consumers in 58 countries about their trust in different forms/formats of ads. Tellingly, this survey (Exhibit 1) highlighted the abysmally low “trust” consumers have on mobile ads, with consumers reporting half the trust level of highly ranked forms like social media recommendations and newspaper editorials.

Advertising Trust
(Exhibit 1)

At the height of the mobile ad mania, with raised eyebrows, I started delving deeper into the idea of resonance of mobile advertising. There is a very simple and basic framework we use at Nielsen for ad measurement: it’s the idea that despite reaching the target audience, if the ad does not resonate (i.e. shift attitudes) of the viewer, there’s a low chance of getting the desired reaction (which in most cases is a purchase). And resonance is very often overlooked while planning and deploying ads.

I felt discontent with what looked like marketers slapping ads onto a new screen without much thought into how this was disrupting the user experience. Anyone who has tried to “x out of” a pop up banner ad on their mobile screen, shares the frustration. At a recent advertising seminar I attended, industry participants actually had a term for when a user mistakenly clicks on an ad while trying to click the X on the upper right hand side of  the ad—Fat Fingers. Various estimates put the proportion of accidental “fat fingered” clicks at 50%.

Which brings us to the central question: if users don’t trust mobile ads and can’t wait to close them—how can the industry hope to realize its full $25 billion potential?

Every day, some agency, research company, or marketer claims to have cracked the mobile advertising puzzle by releasing either a new metric to measure mobile engagement, or worse—found a way to make the disruptive ad experience even more distorted by forcing you to view the entire unit without an option to opt out. Thank heavens for YouTube’s ‘skip ad after 5 seconds’ option.

In the midst of this mobile marketing mayhem, it was very refreshing to hear Brad Smallwood, the head of insights at Facebook, arguably one of the world’s largest mobile ad platform, candidly admit that the industry (including themselves) were at a very nascent and experimentative stage when it came to mobile ad units which realize the full potential of the device. At an advertising seminar, he compared today’s confusion about how to utilize the mobile medium to the early days of TV advertising in the 1950s in the US. The advertising industry was just waking up to a new medium after years of having radio rule the roost. The early “TV ads” were simply no more than a recording of a radio announcer reading off a scripted message about the benefit of some soap or detergent which was being advertised. We have come a long way since those days—to a point where TV ads are often the anchors which brand advertising rests on.

Perhaps this “experimentative” attitude is what’s needed to test various formats to measure how viewers are truly engaging with the content and advertising. Some examples which resonate with me personally are the full page, HD ads which appear on the Flipboard app. I find it completely not intrusive, especially since it gives you the option of flipping past the page or interacting with additional content on the ad page.

A more recent example which made me go “wow, that’s inventive” was when I downloaded the latest edition of Angry Birds, and while making my way through eliminating pigs, I found a new character added to my arsenal of feathered weapons. After reading the pop up screen introducing the character, I realized it was Buzz the Bee—the mascot of the Honey Nut Cheerios cereal by General Mills. Talk about an interactive experience with the brand while in no way disrupting the gaming experience! Contrast that to a forced pop-up banner which many of us would be impatiently trying to get past while trying to slice away more Bad Piggies.

In the last 2 years since the ‘trust in advertising’ survey came out, I’m encouraged by inventive agencies and marketers who’ve tried hard to drive increased resonance, and I am waiting impatiently to see how the scores have moved up for ‘trust in mobile advertising’. I’m glad industry participants have realized that it’s a win-win when they do so—because the flip side of this is going to lead to another dark alley: the growing rise of ad blocking software in the US which is estimated to be used by 20% of the internet population. And that’s an issue for another blogpost!

[Edit: The 2015 Trust in Advertising results just came out, and it’s not looking good for mobile ads. There was a drop of 2 percentage points]


(Feature Image Courtesy: Shutterstock)

Imran Khan

Imran Khan

Imran Khan is a Client Service Director in Nielsen’s Marketing Effectiveness Practice, based in New York City. In his current role, he works with CPG/Retail brands to measure and improve their advertising performance by optimizing media reach, improve consumer resonance, and boost ROI across digital and traditional platforms. Prior to his current role, he led Nielsen’s marketing mix engagements in Malaysia, and served as the Research Lead for social media advisory in Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Before joining Nielsen, Imran was a management consultant in the technology sector. He has a BSin International Business from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imran Khan

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