As we approach the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, it’s clear that mobile advertising has hit a tipping point. That conclusion is inevitable from any number of facts. For one, Google has announced that more searches on its platform take place on mobile devices than computers in 10 different countries, including the United States. Second, 80% of Facebook’s ad revenue now comes from mobile. If there was any remaining doubt, the research firm E-Marketer has said that 2016 will be the year in which mobile ad spending overtakes digital ad spending.
Amazingly, this tipping point feels like it has been a long time coming. It has been predicted for years, despite the fact that smartphones and other devices displaying mobile ads have been around for such a short period of time. Compared to the time that advertisers had to refine their craft in print, broadcast, and to a lesser extent digital advertising, the mobile advertising landscape has been in existence for just the blink of an eye. And yet, the talk now is about the move to “mobile-first” advertising strategies.
It came to mind in AT&T’s recent decision to retain Omnicom (with BBDO handling creative), in one of the ad world’s biggest recent reviews. Explaining the decision to Advertising Age, Global Marketing Officer Lori Lee said that, “we have historically been broadcast-centric, and you’re going to see advertising become much more digital, mobile and targeted.” When AT&T, one of the country’s biggest advertisers, is talking like that, you really know the tipping point has come.
How I See It
- The shift to mobile can be stressful, but as participants in the advertising industry, we should also appreciate it. We are standing at a transformational period in advertising history—and that’s something exciting to be a part of. It also presents plenty of opportunity.
- Advertisers have to reach their customers where they are. In the mobile landscape, one place that many customers—particularly millennials—are going, is to messaging apps. Expect brands to get creative with digital stickers and other ways of interacting with users inside messaging apps.
- The mobile environment places restrictions on advertisers: in terms of the space they can use and also how their ads affect viewers (the less interruptive the better on mobile). These are challenges, but in overcoming them, advertisers are likely to ultimately create more thoughtful and effective advertising.
How the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Michael Hunter, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer for BBDO in Atlanta, to talk more about the future of mobile.
What’s the biggest challenge in presenting advertising content on mobile devices?
Capturing a consumer’s attention in the first five seconds. Whereas in a TV ad the last five seconds are often the most important, on mobile people are generally task-focused and may only have a few moments to spare. Small screen sizes amplify this challenge. Determining how intrusive to make the advertising is a question that applies to all advertising mediums, but it’s more pronounced on mobile devices due to the small amount of screen real estate available. Consumers understand that no content is free. They pay for it with their eyeballs. But whether a digital ad should appear in the middle of an article, where it can be easily scrolled past, or as a pop-up that has to be Whack-A-Moled, is a key question.
What is the impact of differing screen sizes, social media platforms, and publishers on telling your clients’ stories?
These things don’t change the need to tell compelling stories about our clients’ brands, but they do impact how. For ads that we know will be viewed on mobile devices within a social media platform, we oftentimes shoot video vertically so as to fit the shape of the device, unlike ads on TVs, laptops, and tablets which are usually horizontal. We try to ensure the ad conveys a message even without sound, knowing that social media users oftentimes won’t hear it. And we sometimes put the end of the ad at the beginning, knowing that we’ll have only those 5 short seconds for the video to capture a viewer’s attention before she scrolls down.
How is your creative approach different for mobile advertising than digital?
A litmus test of a great creative idea is its ability to travel across mediums. While that idea might look and feel different depending on where it appears, it will have a center of gravity that prevents the brand message from zig-zagging all over the place in consumers’ minds. The high level of personalization that mobile marketing allows for can also present challenges in staying on-message. We also keep in mind that social media is, by definition, social. It’s about relationships. So we need to think in terms of engagement and conversation rather than just racking up the number of views. On a mobile device, you can drive a customer farther down the purchase funnel, where she’s researching an item real-time in-store, or ordering it online while on the train home from work.
Where do you see the future of mobile going?
Up. In the same way that the term digital marketing is now synonymous with marketing, the term mobile marketing will soon also be redundant. The phone is the most prevalent device worldwide. Even in developing nations, a smartphone figures more prominently on one’s hierarchy of needs than a TV. Sales of computers and tablets are in decline. We’ll also see the continued development of non-traditional mobile devices such as watches and augmented reality goggles, though they’ll be for niche audiences.
Is ad-blocking software a greater threat in the mobile environment than it is for desktop or other digital advertising?
Ad blocking reflects poorly on all of us in digital advertising. We’re supposedly experts at crafting engaging stories that consumers will find helpful. We’re supposed to be targeting people skillfully and presenting our ads in a friendly and non-intrusive way. Instead, more and more people are choosing to block our messages sight unseen. Whether on mobile or desktop, we need to revisit what we’re doing and ask ourselves how we can remake the digital advertising experience. Unlike other mediums where consumers “lean back” and view content, oftentimes with others in the room, on a mobile device they “lean in” to a more personal experience. Interrupting either experience with an ad has consequences.
What’s the most interesting object in your office?
The hockey posters. Because I’m a hockey fanatic who’s trapped in a basketball player’s body.