Mobile’s Slow Transition to Adulthood

If mobile marketing had human traits, it would look a little like an awkward teen.

Of all digital platforms, it seems as though mobile is the moodiest and hardest to predict. When brands are struggling with interactive marketing, mobile is often to blame. While everything was new to us once – online gaming, social media, digital video, web TV – it’s mobile, time and time again, that marketers cite as a primary source of confusion.

That’s largely because of the technology. There are many different devices to manage, new hardware and software challenges to navigate. Studies have found that only 25 percent of brands have a mobile strategy. Yet spending on mobile advertising has more than quadrupled since 2009.

Who could blame brands for being eager to buy in? Mobile device penetration is on the rise, as is the amount of time we devote to our tablets and phones. We’re using them to stream video – over an hour per month – and we dedicate more than nine monthly hours to checking in with the social sites on our phones (along with three more on our iPads).

Some consumers, particularly those with a high household income, are using their smartphones for shopping, too. Studies show that 49 percent of affluent smartphone users and 41 percent of tablet owners use their devices to search for store information. They’re also looking for product details, comparing prices, and reading user reviews. And while mobile purchase numbers remain relatively low, it’s only a matter of time before they start to show real growth. We’re already so hooked on mobile that articles cautioning against the damage texting can cause to our necks are almost as common as reports about the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

To date, mobile advertising has been a mishmash of blinking banners disturbingly reminiscent of early online display ads. They’re tiny, which makes for a lot of accidental “fat finger” clicks, and they aren’t particularly interactive. As with every medium there’s a learning curve, and it has taken publishers and advertisers some time to calculate the opportunities afforded by the platform – and gauge its limitations, too. There’s user behavior to take into consideration: understanding what consumers really want from their mobile devices, and how they’re integrating smartphones and tablets into their lives, is an ongoing struggle.

Every new piece of data represents greater insight into the minds of those we want to reach. But even when we think we have a good handle on that, we still have to figure out how to produce ads that consumers actually want to see.

This week marked the official inclusion of five new mobile formats in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Standard Ad Portfolio. Following the IAB’s search for new display ad and digital video units, the organization launched a call for richer, more creative mobile units for advertisers to incorporate into their campaigns. The chosen formats range from a filmstrip to a slider unit and a full-screen experience that switches from portrait to landscape mode in tandem with the motion of the device.

Each unit is designed expressly for a smartphone or tablet environment. The composition of these new units and the technology incorporated into the ads employs the same tap and swipe motions familiar to mobile device users, and that creates a more intuitive ad experience. “In establishing the Mobile Rising Stars winners, we sought formats that were clear in conception and natural for consumers, media companies, and brands alike,” said IAB Mobile’s VP and general manager Anna Bager, “as well as being attuned to the unique aspects of the smartphone and tablet world.”

Even as mobile ads begin to become richer and more engaging, efforts are underway to make them more relevant. Startup TapCommerce has been raising funding to target ads based on past mobile activity – similar to the banner retargeting practiced online, but with a workaround for the notable absence of cookies. Mobile ad network Jumptap recently launched a real-time bidding platform that links to partner exchanges worldwide. According to the company, it can now deliver targeted mobile ads to more than 260 million users per month.

Nobody’s saying that mobile advertising is easy – at least, it hasn’t been so far. That’s all about to change. Watch this space, explore it, and start experimenting. It won’t be long now before mobile transitions from clumsy teen to marketing darling.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Vector graphic of a megaphone spewing out business themed items, such as a laptop, tablet, pen, @ symbol and smartphone