Study With Major Brands Compares Ad Recall for Mobile and Desktop Promos

Data for a cross-screen world

If you want people to remember a mobile ad, you're going to have to pay for it, according to new research from digital ad firm Undertone.

Last year, Undertone worked with Ipsos ASI to look at how takeover "high-impact" desktop ads affected brand recall. This year, the company looked at how those same ads stack up on smartphones and tablets.

Undertone partnered with four brand-agency teams to test the differences between mobile and desktop ads: Dish (Havas Media), Ford (Team Detroit), Maybelline (DigitasLBi) and Philadelphia Cream Cheese (Starcom).

Each team ran one campaign across smartphones, tablets and desktops, using three of Undertone's ad formats. An online panel of 3,600 U.S. adults ages 18 to 64 were then asked about the ads they saw.

The first format was a standard display ad, which includes mobile banners and the rectangular promos that typically run on the side of publishers' sites. The second type was the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Rising Stars format—like a slideshow ad you can click on or a YouTube masthead placement. The third type of ad was the full-page takeover that pops up when users refresh or load new Web pages.

Of course, those big takeover ads are going to cost marketers more, and they work best when combined with premium desktop ads that are also more expensive than basic banner ads. Undertone didn't disclose exact pricing for any of its ads.

When people were asked if they remembered seeing full-page ads, 38 percent recalled seeing the ad on a desktop. Forty-three percent of those who were served the ad on smartphones, tablets and desktops remembered the ad.

Banners had the lowest ad recall rates. Thirty-three percent of people who looked at banner ads on a desktop remembered seeing the ad later. The same percentage of people who saw it on multiple devices remembered seeing ads, meaning that solo desktop banners are just as effective as cross-screen standard ads, even though brands pay extra for smartphone and tablet ads.

For the midsize ads, 35 percent of folks who saw the ad on a desktop remembered it, and 35 percent of those who also saw it on smartphones and tablets remembered it.

"There's challenges with ad recall on desktop right now—which I think makes intuitive sense, because there are so many things to look at on a desktop versus a mobile device," said Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi. "Because [mobile] is more of a focused screen and a more intimate experience with consumers, engagement levels are going to be higher."

The research then dug a bit deeper to ask only mobile viewers if they remembered the exact brand the ad was for.

On tablets, 45 percent of people who saw the full-page ads recalled the brand. Thirty-five percent of folks served banner ads and 27 percent of those who viewed the midsize promos remembered the brand.

Not surprisingly, the smartphone banners had the lowest brand recall with 23 percent of users remembering the brand. Twenty-five percent of folks who saw the midsize ads remembered the brand compared with 44 percent who looked at the takeover ads.

Undertone's research isn't particularly groundbreaking for marketers who ditched banner ads a couple of years ago, but it does lend a bit more credibility to mobile advertising working outside of Facebook or Google, two of the largest mobile players.

"Sometimes people get concerned that because of screen size or the consumer engagement, brands aren't able to deliver complex messaging as effectively on smartphone as PC," Franchi said. "This states that it's pretty consistent across the board."