4 Ways to Save the Mobile Ad Experience

Brands have the power to change clickbait culture

People hate mobile ads right now.
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It’s happened to the best of us: that headline on your Facebook feed sucks you into the “The 10 Worst Tattoos of ’90s Child Stars” and, before you know it, you’re stumbling through a clunky slideshow, hitting the wrong prompts again and again in the hopes that, eventually, you’ll find out if someone really did get Hanson inked on their lower back.

Scott Swanson

This experience is all too common on the web today, but it’s particularly insidious on mobile, where a moment of instant gratification can turn into a dizzying, small screen labyrinth. Even the most patient among us will, after enough futile taps, give in to frustration.

For many publishers, however, this desperate bid for revenue is proving to be a workable business model. Clickbait performs well on social—consumers still seem to get some pleasure from it, even if it is a guilty one—and the poor site design keeps people tapping, at least long enough for sites to eke out a little ad revenue.

Advertisers need to be specific about the design practices and functionality they want to avoid.

The problem is that, as these sites lower the bar with poor experiences and shady ad practices, they’re dragging mobile advertising down with them.

Brands already feel the pain. They know consumers don’t distinguish between “good” ads and “bad” ads but instead just conclude that all mobile ads suck. This decline in ad receptivity impairs every advertiser’s ability to drive value from their mobile campaigns and paints a bleak picture for ads in general—unless the tide is turned.

Fortunately, brands (and their agencies) are in a position to take action. By directing ad dollars to properties that respect the consumer experience, they can break the pattern of behavior that puts mobile advertising—and the content is supports—at risk. Here are a few ways to do just that:

1. Be more context-aware
For all its efficiencies, programmatic buying has distanced advertisers from the context of the ad experience. Reaching your audience isn’t enough if by the time you’ve engaged them they’re fuming. In order to avoid perpetuating this backlash, advertisers need to close that gap. This doesn’t mean moving away from programmatic, but rather putting pressure on exchanges for greater transparency and, generally speaking, taking a more responsible approach to buying at scale.

2. Clarify your expectations
There’s no formal categorization for sites in this desperate web, at least not yet. That means advertisers need to be specific about the design practices and functionality they want to avoid in media buys. This might include sites that force consumers through cumbersome hurdles to get to content or those that purposefully blur the lines between content and advertising. A bias toward apps, where higher CPMs create less urgency to force extra page views, can also spare a brand from participating in sub-par experiences.

3. Know the company you keep

Site design isn’t the only red flag. Advertisers should also understand what other types of ads they’ll be sharing real estate with. Even if you are a world-class advertiser, keeping company with faux virus pop ups or seedy clickbait stories validates them and ultimately reflects poorly on your brand.

4. Stay firm on creative integrity

There are many ways to trick consumers into tapping on an ad: missing or misleading close buttons, faux message alerts, blurry native experiences … It’s up to advertisers and their agencies to hold their creative to higher standards. Will these mean a lower click-through rate? Perhaps, but face it—there’s more to ROI than taps.

Brands have long asked consumers to be advocates for their products and services. With the ad-supported mobile experience under threat, the tables have turned. Now it’s the brand’s turn to advocate for consumers. By taking a more careful approach to media investments and a firm stance against the sites and practices that characterize the desperate web, advertisers can not only improve their own ad performance, they can rehabilitate the mobile experience.

After all, if someone really wants to see a Hanson tattoo, nothing should get in the way.

Scott Swanson (@swanson_scott ) is CEO of Aki Technologies, a San Francisco-based mobile advertising company dedicated to helping brands reach consumers in the right mobile moments.