Mobile Advertising: Putting Context in Context

Everyone agrees mobile advertising has the potential to be big, but one thing is certain. It can’t look like what we are used to if it is truly going to succeed.

mobile advertising

At its core advertising follows a pretty simple model:
• Identify your target audience
• Locate where they are
• Interrupt them with the right message
• Refine your targeting/frequency/spend/message
• Repeat

We see this “targeted interruption” model carried over to Mobile Advertising today. Pandora still follows a fairly standard radio approach of interrupting music with advertising spots (and clickable banners) targeted by your digital profile. Within the Facebook app, ads are placed in between posts on your wall, targeted by your personal data and LIKES. Most consumer mobile sites use “roadblock” ads that force the user to click-or-close the banner in order to see the content they are actually looking for. Listen, we all still do it, and for good reason, on some level this model still works. But Mobile presents both new opportunities and unique challenges.

What’s largely been missing in the Mobile Advertising equation is context. What is your audience doing at that moment? Where are they? What behavior is their mobile phone enabling? How do we really fit into all of that?

Furthermore, as mobile advertisers we need to acknowledge how intensely personal people’s relationships are with their mobile phones. Just look around.

• It is the one device we NEVER leave home without. It is always within reach. We use it many times throughout our day to do important, fun, and of course meaningless stuff.
• The device is always on. It is always connected to the network. We are always “in touch.”
• As entertainment devices, mobile phones are equipped for both lean forward and lean back.
• They contain access to much of your communications and social graph (address books, social network logins, email, etc.), as well as your banking and financial life.
• We adorn and bedazzle them with cases and charms. We personalize the interfaces with icons, wallpapers, and apps. We make them our own!

The smart phone is as close a device can get to being part of the human organism as we can imagine (so far). Which means that people take it very seriously when advertising doesn’t take their context into consideration.

Imagine a roadblock that keeps you from getting the score of the Knicks game, or drains your battery, or uses up minutes/bandwidth on your data plan. Imagine a push notification that interrupts you when driving, or checking your bank balance, or while you are actually talking on the phone with someone (it is still a phone after all). These are all examples where the advertising efforts can actually hurt the brand experience.

If we believe the Wanamaker problem exists (“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” – J. Wanamaker), in Mobile we may be facing a situation where 50% of advertising works and the other 50% infuriates potential customers.

We think the future of mobile advertising isn’t about gimmicks and apps but experiences where the user is the true starting point, dialog is two-way, and the execution is inherently entertaining, shareable and completely worth the users’ attention and battery life. Yes, battery life!

Mobile advertising, in many ways, needs to be similar to how we design responsively:

1. Think mobile first.
2. Focus on the user’s context.
3. Simplify and prioritize to create a compromise between the user’s intention on their device and your brand’s needs.

With mobile advertising, more-so than other forms, the risks for poor execution aren’t just being ignored or mocked. The risk is infuriating your audience and doing real damage to the brand in the process.

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