Reading all the studies available on the web, it’s easy to believe that mobile advertising beats every other ad medium. Looking at my own behavior, and surveying my friends and acquaintances, I hear the opposite opinion. Talking with friends who have apps out there, I hear that ads work for free stuff.
Having mobile advertising only work when something is free doesn’t sound like a great marketing tool.
I decided to take apart one of the surveys to see what I was missing. It didn’t take long to find out that what I was missing was – well, nothing. The first survey I read referenced a business that had terrific results with mobile advertising. Since it was a company that I didn’t know, I decided to check out their mobile app. Go to the App Store, find the app, and first notice that it gets 2 ½ stars out of 5 from customer ratings. Digging a bit deeper, reading the reviews, I find a common complaint – “after each question you are taken to an ad that you have to close out of and inevitably you miss the tiny x to close and are taken out of the app…” The day after I read this I was talking about this with a PR maven in tech with mobile clients and she tells me that she has the same problem all the time.
It’s obvious to me at this point. A lot of clicks are inadvertent but are being counted as deliberate. One mobile analytics firm claims that 76% – that’s three quarters – of all calls coming from mobile ads are bad calls, typically pocket dials or accidental clicks. Doesn’t sound like effective advertising to me.
Let’s move on to the one site with mobile advertising that really works for me. It’s Pandora, and they are running audio ads between songs, just like radio. I don’t have to click off, and although I want to get to the next song, I can read my email or text messages, so it isn’t interfering with my behavior. It’s like radio ads – you’re on the freeway waiting for the traffic report so you know why you are moving at 6 mph and you’re going to keep listening. And I can tell you what I have heard in Pandora’s audio ads if I heard it more than once. It works, it’s a proven advertising medium that translates easily to mobile.
What I don’t understand is why Pandora has added on-screen advertising that has no correlation to my interests or needs. They still have audio advertising (Allstate was the last one I heard) but now there’s a sweepstakes ad that takes over the screen – I could care less – and match.com asking me if I want to see singles in my area. Since I’m happily married and not the least bit interested, I will only end up clicking if I try to get the ad off the screen. Then it switches to classmates.com. Not what I’m thinking about when I’m using the phone. As a side note, Pandora’s mobile ARPU is about half that of the desktop.
This seems simple. These ads aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t properly targeted and end up as irrelevant as ads can get. I’d rather look at makeup ads, at least the photos are well-done. These ads are tacky and useless. And while there are people who might be interested in singles their age, why would they be looking at them right now on their phone? Obviously there’s no correlation between ad and viewer.
Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m not at all opposed to mobile ads. I could use a few ads that helped me do what I want to do, and it’s not that hard to know what I want to do. Publishers have my location, and they should have my interests. They may have more than that from what I’m doing. That’s what they should be using.
Before we get to solutions, just one more statistic. A presentation from Mary Meeker shows mobile advertising effectiveness being as low as 20% of desktop effectiveness. This explains the drop in CPMs for mobile.
So that’s the problem. The solution seems obvious to me, although there are some costs and structural issues to consider. Think about location, think about what people use non-game apps for, think about the time of day, the weather, and everything else that’s happening where the user is. And think about what that user might be looking for. My next post here will discuss what I see as the big opportunity for mobile advertising.