"There's a pot of gold at the end of the mobile rainbow"

By: Aruna Kamath


With fancy and sophisticated handsets constantly flooding the markets, the mobile platform seems like the natural choice – and perfect medium – to engage with, advertise and reach out to audiences. Marketers, too, are convinced about the immense advertising and marketing opportunities this medium presents. After all, the sizes of Smartphone’s are getting bigger and better. Which means ample screen space to watch movies, display photos and web pages. From a marketer’s perspective, it means more room and scope for advertising. So, does this mean that mobile display advertising will finally live up to the dreams of the mobile world that the evangelists have been proselytising about for the last 15 years or so?

Industry trends show a massive increase in the number of people using mobiles and tablets. Thus, it would seem that the future holds a huge promise for mobile advertising. Advertisers, too, who are following the consumers, are increasing their mobile ad spends and are seeking strategies to suit these handheld devices. But, how well would the traditional display ad model of advertising that has dominated the communication scenario in both traditional print and new age internet media translate into a few square-centimeters of screen available on the typical Smartphone?

If one considers traditional media like TV and newspaper, where this form of advertising has worked effectively for years, it’s easy to see why they have had a successful run. Take print, for instance, the ads that run along with the rest of the articles blend in naturally along with the rest of the content without interfering with the content or the reader’s activity. Ditto for the new age online media. On a 53 cm screen monitor, a small banner ad, which shares screen space along with the hygiene elements, simply becomes a part of the environment on the web page without disrupting the reader. In both cases, the sheer volume of space allows the ads to co-exist with the content. In the case of TV, advertisements classically pop up or slide along when we are viewing programmes. Again, it does not in any way hamper or impact the user experience, because the viewer typically knows - and is prepared - for the ads.

Would this be possible in the miniature screen size of the handset? With an average display size of around 12 cm, the tiny standard mobile ads ranging from 0.80 cm to 5 cm do not give much of a canvas for a creative marketer to engage prospects to sell his products or services. In fact, studies show that mobile ads, often relegated to a small portion of the screen, are often invisible or completely ignored by consumers.

Besides size limitation, another challenge that confronts a marketer is the ownership of the space itself. Remember, the mobile phone is one of the most personal forms of technology. So, if the ad does not target the intended audience, it may totally backfire and diminish the brand image. Also, most users consider mobile ads to be annoying, obtrusive and an intrusion on their personal space. Imagine an ad that suddenly pops up in the middle of gameplay or texting a message. It not only ruins the flow of activity for the user, but also leaves him highly irritated.
On the presentation front, again, the TV, print and internet media allows creators several visual communication avenues to maximize impact of the display ads. They could be made more attractive by an interesting mix of graphical embellishments, advanced animation techniques or unique layouts depending on the medium. However, for a mobile ad, there is very little – or tending to zero – room for experimentation and visual enhancement. One can add all the bells and whistles one wants to, but will never truly be able excite consumers and create an impression.

When exactly will mobile advertising create a positive experience?
With consumer adoption of the Smartphone growing exponentially, evidently it has become the preferred search channel for consumers. Forrester Research projects that by 2016, close to 40 per cent of the $3.5 trillion in local offline retail sales will be influenced by what consumers find online, and increasingly it will be their phone that nudges them to make a purchase.

Marketers looking at embracing mobile advertising and leveraging the power of this platform will have to look at delivering ads that will result in a rewarding experience or a useful transaction. The one huge advantage that the mobile has over the desktop is that it can precisely locate the customer, whether on-the-go or indoors. Exploiting this feature, marketers can increase the relevance of mobile advertising by delivering customized search content, based on the location of the consumer. Also known as geo-targeting, this strategy has proven to boost consumer engagement and generate considerably higher return than conventional mobile advertising.

Location-based prompts, delivered via search results or apps, are but just one means of leveraging the mobile internet. Other advances such as QR codes, near-field communications (also called augmented reality), mobile payments, etc., provide rich opportunity for converting the mobile device from a ‘plain old telephone’ to a consumer engagement device. Tesco, the British retailer, in fact, did precisely this using a combination of QR codes and mobile payments to climb to the number two position in South Korea’s retail market, overcoming several home grown retailers in the process.

The moral of the story – yes, there is a pot of gold waiting at the end of the mobile rainbow. But advertising in the traditional sense is not the route to get to the pot of gold. The means to get a payoff from mobile is to think differently and invest in activities that combine the native functionality of the device with the purposes for which users use the device, to arrive at new ways of engagement. Business as usual will, unfortunately, not work.

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