Mobile Ads Are Anything but Intrusive

Because of its massive and largely untapped potential, mobile advertising maintains a continually high level of buzz in the marketing world. Amid that buzz, however, is a strident little voice protesting that mobile marketing is too intrusive for today’s consumer. It’s time to put that myth to rest for good.

The excitement over mobile advertising stems from the fact that billions of consumers are rarely without their cell phones, making it one of the largest and most personalized channels for reaching an engaged audience. Advertiser and agency budgets grew 114 percent in 2007, to $878 million, according to eMarketer. And mobile campaigns score click-through rates of between 2 and 6 percent — significantly higher than average online CTRs. More agencies are moving mobile into the planning mainstream, beyond the “emerging media” designation. And analysts predict mobile advertising revenues will exceed $12 billion by 2012.

The personal connection with our mobile devices is likely the source of the misguided intrusiveness controversy. Have you ever heard a baby boomer say that his mobile phone makes him “too connected”? I have. Ever hear a 22-year-old say that? Me neither. As a matter of fact, the millennials — the primary users of mobile non-voice services — are as unnerved to be disconnected as boomers and Gen Xers are loathe to be too connected. The truth is, mobile advertising may well be the most consumer-friendly advertising model out there.

First, the basics. The mobile platform is a valuable and effective means for reaching desirable audiences and demographics, including the influential millennial generation that is so appealing to advertisers. Paid models for mobile content such as the ringtones and games that spawned big new entertainment markets have been the focus of attention over the past few years. As with every new medium, however, the ability to deliver content and services — at no cost to customers — is the key to unlocking the potential of a medium. Mobile is no exception, and its rich potential for advertisers will enable the business model.

Radio, television and the Internet have all been built around free, ad-supported models. Now publishers, content owners, advertisers and agencies are embracing mobile advertising to directly tap into the rapidly expanding audience of mobile Web users and leverage the growing segment of these users who are utilizing their handsets to become more actively engaged with consumer brands through various mobile ad mechanisms. Although still in its infancy, in comparison to more mature marketing communications tactics, mobile advertising has already seen its share of advertisers who have successfully designed and executed compelling campaigns that have captured the imagination of mobile consumers. To the uninformed observer this new medium, coupled with the sophisticated technology behind it, is often viewed as an unexplored frontier because of the seeming lack of standards or protocols governing mobile advertising.

So back to the argument. The reality is that these assumptions that mobile advertising is intrusive to users could not be further from the truth. Mobile ads don’t displace what’s on your screen, disrupt what you’re doing or waste your time. Contrast that to pop-up ads, an e-mail inbox clogged with spam or the 11 back-to-back ads that precede a TV show’s exciting conclusion. Now that’s intrusive advertising. But unlike the Internet, TV and most print media, mobile screens display a single ad either at the top or the bottom of the viewable area, always in the same place.

Mobile advertising is so customized to each user, ads are virtually always relevant to consumer interests. Mobile vendors target in sophisticated ways to match users to ads. Mobile ads are more likely to offer something relevant to you as opposed to, say, a prescription for a disease you’re anatomically unable to contract — a daily occurrence in virtually every other form of advertising.

Maybe the strongest counterpoint to the intrusiveness argument comes from mobile users themselves. Consumers state that mobile ads don’t disrupt their experience and that they are open to ads, provided they are relevant and especially if they lower mobile access costs. In the U.S., both Sprint and Verizon have said publicly that their programs have generated next to zero consumer complaints. Several generations of consumers have been raised on ad-supported content and view it as an acceptable and necessary part of modern media consumption.

Consumer backlash against certain types of intrusive and inappropriate advertising was one of the growing pains of the Internet and e-mail marketing industry — one unlikely to be repeated in the mobile arena. Already mobile advertising networks follow rigorous standards of conduct to maintain business integrity and credibility. At Millennial Media, we benchmark each client’s campaign for relevancy, frequency caps and size before launching it.

The bottom line is that millennials (the vast majority of users of mobile non-voice services) use their devices not as their “third screen” but as their first one. This social networking generation has been raised on highly targeted advertising based upon specific content chosen for their personal profile pages. Mobile advertising is the most targetable medium, providing the most relevant ads. They welcome such relevance and use it as the basis for their purchase decisions.

So the next time someone tries to engage you in discussion about mobile ads being intrusive, tell them to first ask a millennial — and then to acknowledge their own age. Let’s put this tired argument to bed.

Paul Palmieri is president and CEO of Millennial Media.