Opinion

The best mobile advertising ‘makes newspaper ads look like Neanderthal carvings’

Despite all the technology and innovation at play, mobile ads have yet to escape their reputation for a poor user experience but the potential for greatness is there – writes InMobi's Michael Lee

Don’t we love mobile advertising. You can’t imagine life without pixelated banners peeking incessantly from the bottom of the screen right?

Whether it’s trying to flog that mobile game for the twelfth time in a foreign language or reminding you of the ‘single, lonely women’ who are dying to meet you in the local area, the mobile screen has become a sad state of affairs for advertising.

Lee: ‘ We are still in the very early stages of developing a framework for efficient and meaningful mobile ads.’

But what we often see in the market is a warped representation of the quality of work that’s actually being done. And unless we as an industry work to change this negative view of mobile advertising, the reputation of cringe-worthy banners will always be its Achilles Heel.

Understandably, given the relative infancy of the mobile industry versus other media forms, poor experiences have become the archetype of advertising on the medium.

In the 1940s, when televisions were first introduced, TV spots were of a person reading from a script, like a radio presenter would. And in the early 1990s, with the advent of the internet, online ads were then specifically designed to look like print ads. With that in mind, I believe we are still in the very early stages of developing a framework for efficient and meaningful mobile ads. Things cannot get worse from here onwards.

The advertiser needs to think of the mobile device as an amalgamation of a television, PC, outdoor display, telephone and a radio. It’s the only platform where marketers can play audio jingles, show a video commercial, interact with the user and so much more – all on one device, at any place, at any time. Rich media mobile engagements are so advanced, newspaper ads look like Neanderthal carvings on a wall.

With access to the gyrometer, numerous APIs, camera functions, GPS and a spread of other innovations, the mobile phone ad experience can be a truly enriching one. And as HTML5 continues to evolve on smartphones, new and engaging methods to interact with consumers emerge constantly.

When the idea of branded mobile applications was first introduced, brands were clamouring to create one for every new product and campaign launch. However, with exorbitant costs and lengthy timelines, application development proved difficult to upkeep. Aside from having to promote the app, users had to first search it out on the appropriate app store, before logging in to their account and then downloading – consuming precious data in the process.

So, as intrusive as mobile ads are, they’re here to stay – but, how we communicate can change. Rather than display cut out coupons, you can show users how to get to the nearest McDonald’s with turn-by-turn instructions.

Why bother with irrelevant text ads, when Lifebuoy can warn users of impending floods around them? Or why create an indiscriminate chatbot for women living in some of the most conservative parts of the world with more pressing concerns than the promotion of hair care?

All this, in the name of ‘mobile advertising’.

Given the technology available to the industry today – for example, knowing where users are with pinpoint accuracy and being able to identify their behaviour and interests – delivering a great ad to the wrong person is actually more beneficial than a lacklustre experience to the right one.

In the future, the way ads work on phones may change, but mobile advertising is definitely in for the long haul.

Michael Lee is the head of creative at InMobi Asia Pacific & META

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