Fat fingers. We all have them.
Fat fingers are probably responsible for half of all mobile banner clicks. When that free-app-supporting-interrupting-your-app or game-session-banner-ad shows up, it's highly unlikely that you're going to click on it. After all, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all mobile banners get clicked on.
When you see a pop-up mobile banner ad, what is your reaction?
You react the same way everyone does - you click on it, of course.
But are you clicking on the ad? Or are you actually clicking on one piece of it: the little "X" at the upper right corner. The miniature banner ad equivalent of "Skip This Ad." It's entirely possible that the greater majority of mobile banner ad engagement is by mistake.
I'm going to guess that you have fat fingers, and 5 percent of the time you are trying to kill a pop-up mobile ad, you are actually clicking through. And that 5 percent is enough to get publishers paid, however poorly the ads monetize on an eCPM basis.
Mobile is the only place in the whole world of advertising where you get any kind of "mini-X." You don't see it on the normal desktop display web, where the ads share the page and you barely, if ever, see it on video or tablet ads, which are even more ingrained.
Typical desktop display has no ad skipping at all, other than pop-ups, which of course have browser settings that let you kill them.
Web video is the place where you get a polite "Skip This Ad," if you have any opportunity to skip at all. Most people are used to TV ads, and they'll accept an interstitial in exchange for something like "Cat-Friend vs Dog-Friend."
Tablet ads are just like magazine ads - they sit next to your content while you read (except for MicroStrategy, which seems to have somehow cornered the tablet ad world; it's the new X-10 of tablet ads).
Why no mini-X's in those media? Because ads in those contexts (display web, web video, and the tablet) are normal and make sense. They are largely non-interruptive, and when they are, like with video interstitials, you are much more likely to get a chance to "Skip This Ad."
The place where you get the mini-X is on mobile app ads - the most annoying and interruptive experience on the web, and the only way that app makers can give their wares out for free and still make money, now that they can't sell your usage and location data as easily as they could when UDID was flowing free.
The profound failure of the mobile banner ad has led to severe hand-wringing among various sectors of the tech community. In a TechCrunch article critical of mobile marketing techniques and declining user engagement (and the attendant low eCPMs of mobile advertising), Keith Teare wrote, "Mobile is the perfect platform for the dream of one-to-one marketing to finally exist…But today's desperation-driven bad behavior, full of unnatural acts of engagement, will sadly have the opposite impact."
However, all is not lost. There is one last vestige of civility and proper engagement in mobile advertising: email banner ads in publisher and advertiser opt-in newsletters.
Mobile banners in email newsletters do not have, nor do they need, little X's to engage users. Unlike mobile app ads, they don't pop up. They don't nag. They don't get in the way of the user experience. They sit exactly where you expect them to - next to content that you take the time to absorb.
Mobile email banner ads have fantastic eCPMs and engagement metrics. In our experience, mobile email banner ads often perform as well, or better, than banner ads placed in web display versions of the same newsletters. As a matter of fact, email mobile banner ads on tablets, specifically iPads, perform the highest of all media types, with an almost incredible 0.25 percent CTR. This is consistent with what Journalism.org found in its study in the fall of 2012 when it found that tablet owners use their devices for email and reading news, and that they are very likely to click on ads and purchase from them.
So as you plan for 2013, forget unnatural acts. Stop hoping that someone will mistakenly "click" on your mobile or tablet app pop-up ad. Run that same ad in the newsletters that you yourself read and watch as your engagement increases and true engagement improves. Make a resolution in 2013 to stop tricking your audience, and they will reward you.
X image on home page via Shutterstock.
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As chief operating officer of LiveIntent, Dave Hendricks has overall responsibility for revenue, finance, legal, and operations. Prior to joining LiveIntent before its 2009 Series A, Dave was EVP of operations at PulsePoint (then known as Datran Media), where he worked with LiveIntent founder and CEO Matt Keiser and ran Datran's ESP StormPost. Before all that, Dave held senior roles at data management companies InfoUSA and Experian. A member of the founding executive team at ExperianCheetahMail, Dave began his email adventure at Pioneering ESP MessageMedia after running global partnerships for Oracle Corp. Dave was named one of Silicon Alley Insiders Top 100 technologists in 2011 and is active in several IAB Committees including Mobile and Email. Follow him on Twitter @davehendricks.
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