Successful mobile messaging

Mobiles are personal devices and by invading this space with untargeted ads marketers risk cutting consumers off permanently.

According to the most recent IAB study the UK’s mobile ad spend had increased to £203m for 2011. This sounds like a hefty chunk of dosh, but it actually only accounts for around 5 per cent of either TV or online spend.

So, despite all the hype and debate over every year for the past five years being “the year of mobile”, the fact remains that we’re still a long way off mobile being any more than a rounding error for most campaign budgets. There is no doubt that mobile advertising is growing in importance. What is both promising and disappointing is that mobile’s share of media consumption is about 30 per cent of that for TV or fixed internet. This is a big number — perhaps even bigger when we account for mobile’s increasing dual and even triple screen usage — and growing fast. Mobile is rapidly replacing many other media in our consumption of social media, news and entertainment, and it delivers this in a format that is uniquely personal. All in all, mobile offers an incredible opportunity for marketers, and yet spend on advertising lags far behind consumption.

Unwanted intrusion

There are many reasons for this imbalance between usage and spend. First and foremost among these, mobile has long been considered a very challenging environment — with multiple channels on multiple devices on multiple platforms, where each of these channels, devices and platforms requires optimisation for different formats. There are also tightly controlled routes to access these channels, with manufacturers, developers, operating systems and networks each putting in place their own set of regulations.

Essential Research senior director Stuart Knapman says they have found that, when it comes to mobiles, “advertising” is a term that sounds distasteful. This can be atributed to unsavoury marketing techniques. “The cause of mobile marketing has not been helped by untargeted, unsolicited SMS spam that is far more unpopular than direct mail,” says Knapman.

“While direct mail drops onto the doormat, unsolicited SMS feels more like advertisers walking unannounced through the front door,” he adds.

Tricky to track

If that wasn’t enough, advertising through mobile ads is difficult to target, and restrictive in terms of measurement. The simple fact is that while IOS can potentially provide effective geo-targeting, it lacks the usual mechanism to track users for data-driven or behavioural targeting because third party cookies and/or UIDs are restricted by default. This is the reason why until now the majority of ads have been sold at minimal cost with a cost-per-click model, allowing for the simplest ROI and attribution model.

Brand advertising is pretty much a non-starter in this environment. Experiments have taken place, of course, but other than through a handful of digital magazines and a few branded apps – almost certainly both representing test campaigns rather than general marketing — very few brands have ventured onto mobile platforms. With geo the only type of reliable targeting available, and clicks the only reliable measure, the mobile opportunity has been presented as an opportunity exclusively suited to direct response performance-based advertising. Brand advertising has never been much of a consideration.

Regardless of the medium, for brand advertising to be effective there are several vital requirements that the medium must deliver. The ad must reach a target audience, convey the brand message, and finally the impact of that message must be measured.

The challenges

• Operating in an environment where cookies are strictly controlled, audience information becomes very hard to collect and even more difficult to maintain.
• Making sure the advertising isn’t too intrusive
• Messages that a brand is trying to convey are limited to either basic formats or require multiple creative executions.
• Finally, the same cookie issues, coupled with the same limitations as every other medium apply to our ability to measure the success of a campaign in terms that matter to a brand. Traditionally brand impact can only be evaluated using expensive post-campaign research.

There are many reasons to get excited about where mobile advertising is headed; technology is evolving and changes are afoot. Mobile-specific ad platforms have been enhanced considerably, and can deliver rich formats across operating systems and mobile web environments. Technology vendors who have specialised in brand engagement tools in digital advertising, have created audience and brand measurement tools for mobile.

What works best?

It’s the combination of these kinds of advances that is only now beginning to enable brand advertisers to choose an audience based on social demographics and product preferences, deliver a rich, engaging message to them on any phone and understand what portion of the total audience they’ve reached. What’s more, the impact it has had on brand recognition, brand affinity and intent to purchase can be captured in real time, and used to optimise the campaign.

The proliferation of smartphones, and therefore audiences, the technology available, and the fact it’s maturing as a medium have created the conditions to deliver strong impact through mobile. I believe education is now the only hurdle that is keeping brands back from using mobile extensively. In time, as more media owners begin to implement the latest technology on their mobile properties, perhaps we’ll be able to herald the arrival of the much-lauded ‘year of mobile’ without an element of hyperbole.

Ben Humphry is country director for the UK and Ireland at