Why Mobile Advertising Is Such a Headache for Marketers
Mobile computing isn’t that “mobile.” About 70% of tablets aren’t linked to a cellular data plan, and a recent study by AOL found that 68% of time spent on smartphones occurred in people’s homes. If you think about it, the mobile revolution arguably started in 2008, when laptops outsold desktop PCs in the U.S. for the first time.
For marketers, though, there’s a big difference between mobile advertising and the desktop kind. The term refers to an ecosystem created by Apple for the iPhone in 2007 that has since evolved to include tablets and may in time creep onto the desktop as well. This is an environment in which marketers are deprived of most of their favorite tools from desktop computing. Moreover, mobile isn’t one thing, but a bunch of potential screens and situations within a category that right now comprises just 5% of all digital ad spending, by revenues.
Add it all up and mobile advertising is a big headache for marketers. Among the issues:
No Behavioral Targeting
In the desktop environment, advertisers are able to target potential customers based on profiles developed using cookies. Generally, the more sites you visit, the more cookies you collect and the more advertisers can draw a composite sketch of you. Though there are numerous privacy concerns, doing so will in theory result in exposure to more relevant ads.
However, thanks to Apple’s decision not to allow for third-party cookies in the original iPhone, most iOS users can’t be tracked this way. (First-party cookies are OK on iOS. If you visit nytimes.com, The New York Times will be able to identify you, but its advertisers won’t unless you visit their websites.) Google’s Android platform was modeled after iOS, but according to Mahi de Silva, executive VP of consumer mobile at Opera Software, some advertisers are starting to figure out how to deploy third-party cookies via Android. De Silva adds that “third-party cookie tracking on Android is far from being reliable.”
Goodbye Rich Media Ads
On the desktop, it’s assumed that your connection to the Internet is steady and comes in at a reasonable speed, but on a mobile device, you could be using anything from Wi-Fi to LTE to 3G and those connections can vary greatly in quality. For advertisers, that means the rich media ad they had hoped to deploy on mobile might come across as an error message on certain devices.
Another challenge for rich media ads is the lack of support for Adobe Flash. Thanks to Steve Jobs, who opposed Flash for its proprietary nature and its drain on battery life, Flash is not an an option for mobile advertising, even on Android.
Though HTML 5 has emerged as a viable alternative to Flash, de Silva says that smaller screens are a challenge for rich media ads. “Just shrinking the ad 60% doesn’t work,” he says. Meanwhile, alternative rich-media ad formats on mobile, like Apple’s iAd, haven’t yet lived up to the initial hype.
Fewer ‘Live’ Readers
For magazines and newspapers, the advent of tablets has presented an opportunity to reboot themselves. However, readers often aren’t accessing their content the way they did on the web. In particular, many readers have gotten into the habit of downloading their magazine or newspaper and then reading it later, often on the train, where there’s no Wi-Fi connection.
That again makes rich media ads less of an option since they slow the overall download speed and can’t be updated on the fly. But it also means that the ads are more like print than digital. When you read an ad on a preloaded edition of that day’s Wall Street Journal for instance, you can’t click on the ad to get more information. For marketers looking to add some social media engagement to their ads, it’s a step back.
Not everyone has gotten the memo, though. The following Best Buy ad appeared in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal for the iPad. If you saw the ad and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi, you’d have no way of of accessing the “buy now” prompt.
Another major difference between mobile computing and the more traditional kind is the use of apps. In mid-2011, for the first time consumers began spending more time on mobile apps, which is great for makers of apps, but another challenge for advertisers. Though there’s some encouraging data about app-vertising, it’s still so new that, unless they’re dealing with Facebook, Twitter or Zynga, marketers, though there are third parties, including Appssavvy, that also place ads on apps.
However, the web-based model of advertising is quickly going out the window. Stefan Weitz, Senior Director at Bing, says that he believes that 40% of searches will be done via apps by 2015.
Marketers and publishers can debate how relevant the click-through-rate is for desktop advertising, but at least it’s something of a standard. In mobile, there’s no comparable metric. Clark Fredrickson, VP of communications for eMarketer, says one issue is that mobile publishers make the plausible case that mobile marketing drives in-store purchases. “That’s obviously problematic” says Fredrickson, who notes that proving a mobile ad prompted a purchase is much more difficult on mobile than on desktop, where there’s often a clickstream leading to a final online purchase.
Finally, there’s the amorphous nature of “mobile” once again. Smartphone or tablet? Android or iOS? iPhone 4S or iPhone 5? iPad or iPad Mini? “You have to make sure landing pages they’re optimized for each” says Fredrickson.
Complicating matters further, consumers exhibit very different mindsets on tablets vs. smartphones. “Tablets are becoming content-consumption devices,” says Greg Stuart, CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association. “A phone tends to be more about task orientation, like ‘I need to find a restaurant now.'”
That’s why Jeff Lanctot, global chief media officer of digital agency Razorfish, advocates a multi-screen strategy rather than one that addresses “mobile” per se.
Unfortunately, most a lot of marketers don’t see it that way, instead viewing mobile as a small subset of a bigger category that is itself laden with frustratingly small sub-sets. “There are still too many marketers who are managing mobile in a silo,” Lanctot says. “But Microsoft’s unifying the UI across all screens sends a message to marketers that breaking down the mobile silos makes sense.”