If mobile is the most important screen why are the ads so shit still?

Alex HayesWhile a new mobile audience measurement system is just weeks away the state of the creative product is the real issue the industry needs to address, argues Mumbrella editor Alex Hayes.

There are 56 websites and 38 apps in Australia with a unique monthly mobile audience of over 1m users per month.

Yet given these numbers, and the increasing move to mobile by consumers, it still surprises me how staggeringly bad the standard of creative is.There’s an issue that’s been facing publishers in Australia and globally for a while now: more people are accessing their content on mobile devices, but the price of mobile ads are unsustainably low.

And as things stand there are some pretty good reasons for that. Do you remember the last great mobile ad you saw? Have you ever clicked on a mobile ad on purpose? And how annoyed do you get when an interstitial pops up and you have no option to click on it?

But there are compelling arguments to getting to grips with mobile. It doesn’t take a lot of surveys and reports from various industry bodies to point out the obvious, the majority of people are spending more time and doing more on mobile.mobile time growth

The stats I cited at the start of this article come from Nielsen’s head of media industry group Monique Perry, who gave a sneak peek of the new mobile industry measurement tool at Mumbrella’s Mobile Masterclass last Thursday.

It’s set to launch “within weeks” and will be welcomed by a lot of publishers, who reckon their audiences have been undercounted by the current Nielsen system.

According to Perry the new system will allow marketers to “track and measure your digital campaign across desktop, tablet and mobile”.

You will be able to verify an audience to a campaign, to see how many people saw your campaign, on what devices and for it to be de-duplicated across desktop, mobile and tablet.

Oh, and did I mention it’s going to be daily? To make it comparable to other mediums like TV the data will be released overnight, allowing marketers to track their campaigns more effectively.

But while they will give the sales guys a chance to start parlaying their audiences into a bigger share of the marketing pie and stop – as one publisher at the Masterclass put it – mobile becoming the first casualty of the media plan, I’d argue there are bigger problems facing the industry.

Namely the standard of creative executions.

I had a look around a few of the most popular Aussie news websites last night and I can honestly say the standard of creative is pretty bad.

Take this Harvey Norman ad which seemed to be ubiquitous on most of the biggest news sites over the weekend:

harvey norman banner ad

The above is a larger rendering of the ad appeared on my iPhone 6 – and it’s still hard to read. There’s a lot of information in there – and let’s be honest how many people are going to strain to read it once they see it’s a Harvey Norman ad.

There was a second static ad further down the home page with the same messaging – again though it was eminently missable (being careful not to touch it as I scrolled past for fear of being dragged to another page and disrupting my experience):

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 6.52.04 pm

Now you might argue it’s Harvey Norman, the posterchild for crap ads. Surely other brands are doing more interesting stuff?

Well, yes and no. Take this ad on 9News.com.au:

9news mobile bannerWhat’s it for? You have to click on it to find out. While the vast majority of people won’t bother – or notice it – in the interest of science I did.

And this is what I found:

no limits games

Now presumably this is some sort of subscription service giving me access to various mobile games – although which ones exactly isn’t clear. I think I’ll pass on your offer of paying you $361.40 per year for an undisclosed service, cheers No Limits Games.

Or this morning when I logged onto the SMH.com.au and found this interstitial from Citi.

Citi SMH interstitial

I find these the most annoying ad type there is – it’s as if publishers are trying to make interruptive advertising work on mobile. It doesn’t, it’s really annoying. The only reason there’s probably a relatively decent click through rate isn’t the vague promise of free wine, it’s that tiny cross in the top right hand corner which is certainly too small for my thumbs to hit accurately most of the time.

But they can be done well. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that Google managed to come up with the best mobile ads I came across yesterday – or at least the ones which caught my eye the most, for YouTube:

Youtube mobile adsSimple and uncluttered, and supported below the fold by several larger format display ads which were also eye catching:

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 7.11.33 pm Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 7.11.17 pm

Despite not being the target market (I was in private browsing mode to see what came up) – I didn’t resent seeing it in my feed, it felt like an extension of the content on the 9News site.

There is a valid question on whether there’s a future for mobile display – especially given the rise of ad blockers. Certainly all of the panelists at the question time session at the end of the Masterclass thought there was – with Luxottica’s former director of omnichannel customer experience Elizabeth Arnold describing it as “basic hygiene”.

And as for ad blockers there are publishers hitting back explaining to consumers that ads pay for the content they are viewing or using technology to bypass them. But then if we had better ads, it probably wouldn’t be such an issue.

Obviously there are many other ad options on mobile. Native for one is increasingly popular, but again publishers are struggling to get that right most of the time. And apps are great – provided you’ve got one that people have a reason to use more than once.

The rise of HTML5 makes it easier for ads to be spread across all devices. The problem is not all devices are built equally. What may work for me on desktop won’t necessarily work on mobile – as Harvey Norman has proven.

Publishers aren’t off the hook here – they also need to innovate their ad offerings, and hopefully make those interstitials a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

I question whether marketers and their agencies are really spending enough time thinking about the shift to mobile. If it’s the first thing to fall off the marketing plan it suggests not.

JWT’s investment in Webling, which has become something of a mobile specialist in recent years, suggests they are looking at this future, and I’d expect to see more agencies following suit.

The new mobile measurement metric will make for a more compelling conversation, but the industry needs to seriously up its game with the messaging if it’s going to make it work.

  • Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella

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