Mobile Advertising Still Has A Long Way To Go

Annoying advertising is no longer appropriate in a mobile-first world


According to insurance company Zenith, mobile devices will account for 75% of all global time spent online in 2017. Three quarters of all time users spend accessing the internet will be through their smartphones or, less frequently, their tablets, up from little over a third in 2012. The explosion comes as smartphones improve and connectivity outside of wifi becomes so efficient as to be indistinguishable from a hotspot, and such growth represents an incredible opportunity for digital marketers, but the medium itself is hostile to advertising and the industry is still very much in its infancy.

The scope for rapid growth is immense, with the $101.37 billion projected mobile ad spend for 2016 expected to nearly double by 2019, to $196.55 billion, according to eMarketer. In fact, in the first six months of 2016, investment in mobile display advertising overtook desktop, according to Marketing Week. ‘There is no hierarchy of screens anymore,’ said Tim Elkington, chief strategy officer at IAB. ‘It’s about which device has the right content for consumers.’ Content and native advertising are by far the fastest growers, but search still dominates and Google has even announced plans to develop a separate mobile web index. Why, then, are so many mobile advertisements ineffectual?

The obvious problem is that mobile advertising is more intrusive, simply by virtue of the screens being far smaller. Pop ups don’t work because they’re even more of an annoyance than they are on desktop, display is problematic because of the limited space available on a mobile page, and video ads are in danger of using too much data if made too long. The perceived dearth of ingenuity in the mobile ad market was addressed by the newly renamed Snap Inc’s UK general manager, Claire Valoti: ‘I’d like to challenge us all to raise the bar of what mobile advertising should look like,’ she said. ‘Look at what your audience wants to do and add to that. Don’t make advertising disruptive – it should add to the experience.’

It’s difficult to see how brands could possibly add to a mobile experience in which users are generally seeking content produced by their friends and family, but therein lies the challenge for digital marketers. This is what makes Snap’s challenge all the more interesting - the company itself offers no solution to the problem, it merely highlights it. So nascent is the mobile advertising industry that a company with designs to become a key player within it has no tangible way to improve it.

Snap’s own platform - the wildly popular Snapchat - has been working branded content in for a while now, to varying degrees of success, and is only becoming more ripe for good, native advertising. The app has some 100 million daily active users, according to Marketing Week, and boasts a 50/50 gender split and an audience of whom 77% are aged over 18 - the stereotype that Snapchat is built for (primarily female) teens is waning. The app’s Stories feature works well with branded video content, as it appears just as one part in a succession of user-generated content. Anyone following a brand on Snapchat can choose to watch, or ignore, its content, and the company will doubtless toy with the idea of allowing brands to send snaps to their followers directly.

Video ads will only grow on platforms like Snapchat. Video ad spend makes up only 10% (up from 4.7% in 2011) of US mobile ad spend on video in 2016, a figure that will grow as video continues to flourish at the expense of more traditional methods. Snapchat itself is actually a good example of the variation necessary in mobile advertising, too. The company outlined in a recent presentation that it would support three key ad formats - lenses, filters, and snap ads. The first two are entirely voluntary on the part of the consumer; the advertising is native, looks to offer value to the user, and is easy to pass by if unwanted. Marketers should learn from this - if irritating adverts are on the way out, mobile may have hammered the final nail. 

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