Do Mobile Ads Still Suck?

Creative has come a long way—and despite some new innovations, it still has a long way to go

Another inventive mobile advertisement: Digitas’ promotional game for the 2011 Buick Regal. It generated a 4.2 percent ad-interaction rate, which was four times the click-through rate for static creative on the advertising network.

And an award-winning campaign for the Mini, from indie shop Jung von Matt, Stockholm, made the smartphone the center of a location-based game to track virtual cars, with the winner receiving an actual Mini.

Noah Elkin, an analyst with eMarketer, says similar to desktop computing, search and Web browsing are emerging as the top activities on mobile devices. As such, search and display advertising lead mobile ad formats as well. But what distinguishes mobile—more so with smartphones than tablets—is its ability to connect the on-screen experience to the environment of the person holding it. It’s “tied to where we are and what we’re doing, to the extent that advertisers are able to tap into that,” Elkin says.

Indeed, Paran Johar, CMO of mobile ad network Jumptap, says being able to put ads into a time-and-space context is changing the very nature of creative.

“Creative is now being redefined—it’s part content and part context,” says Johar. “If content is the traditional definition of creative, meaning the ad unit, the context is how the ad unit interfaces with the environment around it in terms of the media, targeting, relevancy of the message.”

Adele Gritten, head of media consulting at YouGov, adds that “people are still trying to work with mobile in fairly traditional [ways], not realizing it’s a different kind of device. It’s almost a brand extension of an individual—like your house keys or car keys.”

Digital shops and marketers need to anticipate the mind-set of the consumer at the point at which he or she will receive the advertising message and leverage that in their creative, she says.

Still, mobile advertising pulls ahead of its online counterpart in certain areas—understandable, as deskstop ad engagement presents a low standard. Mobile outperforms desktop on ad awareness, brand favorability and purchase intent by a difference of 16, 3 and 4 percentage points, respectively, according to Dynamic Logic’s Rana.

But as creative grows in importance, hurdles remain. The dense, fragmented nature of the ecosystem contributes to measurement and standardization issues, which impede planning and reporting. And in-agency, aligning creative, strategic and technical interests early on presents challenges.

“Mobile is still trying to get a seat at the planning table,” says Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of mobile agency Skyrockit. “We want to get … all the internal teams of the brands talking to each other, so when the creative director or heads of marketing are thinking about positioning, they’re thinking 360 [degrees].”

That is where creative for the smartphone may be able to learn from the tablet.

“The tablet’s opened eyes,” says Sal Candela, mobile director at PHD. “It was [the creative community’s] ‘aha moment.’ They realized we can do some interesting things.”

Meeting that interest, Yahoo in November launched a new kind of highly interactive ad unit called Living Ads, attempting to blend the best of TV, magazines and the Web. And in December, Google came out with its suite of tablet-tailored rich media ads.

Meanwhile, digital agencies are cooking up tablet ad formats of their own.

At The Pool, a VivaKi media research initiative, Tracey Scheppach, evp and innovation director, says teams from different disciplines have been working since last August to create new formats for tablet ads. Nearly four dozen have been presented since the project’s launch, she says, but none has gotten it completely right. Instead of taking advantage of the device’s potential for interactivity, she says, they take too many cues from the same old smartphone display ads. Like the early days of television, people are still repurposing from the media that came before. With time and investment, says Scheppach, that should change.

“I don’t think anyone has nailed it yet,” she says. “But I’m excited by the prospect of so many people coming together.” —; Twitter: kheussner.

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