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What If Everything You Thought You Knew about Mobile Ads Is Wrong?

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There’s a mobile-marketing cliche that promises mobile ads can deliver the “right message at the right time and right place.” In that context and most marketing discussions, the focus is on customer journey touchpoints, audience targeting, relevance and location. Must less often is the discussion about creative or the role of brand awareness in driving customer engagement.

A new survey of 1,000 US adults from Aki Technologies provocatively casts doubt on much of the conventional wisdom about mobile advertising.

The survey discovered that the most important considerations driving attention to mobile ads are brand familiarity (54%) and “interesting creative” (52%). In addition, “good timing” and coupons were cited by 41% of respondents as factors capturing their attention. So “right time” is important for some people. But good timing may turn in part on the availability of user attention.

What motivates you to pay attention to an advertisement you see on your smartphone?

Aki mobile ad receptiveness

The study found that people are less — not more — receptive to mobile ads when they’re out and on the go. Given the way people think and talk about mobile, this is almost entirely counter-intuitive. The times when users were highly receptive to mobile ads were while they were stationary or killing time — mostly at home:

  • At home watching TV — 59%
  • In bed before sleep — 51%
  • While eating a meal — 36%
  • While shopping in a store — 25%
  • While exercising — 24%
  • While running errands — 21%

These findings varied by age group. For example, Gen Z heavily over-indexed on receptiveness to mobile ads before bed, while Baby Boomers didn’t want them. Gen Z was less interested in ads while running errands but Gen X and Baby Boomers were more receptive in that context.

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Although it’s not made entirely explicit, this survey data reflects on mobile display advertising. Paid search is going to be different because people are actively seeking information in a much higher intent-to-buy state.

All this reminds me of a 2016 conversation with NinthDecimal’s David Staas in which he rhetorically posed the question: “Is the best time to target a golfer on the golf course?” The answer, we agreed, is probably not.

Here are my quick takeaways and thoughts based on the survey findings:

  • Marketer know thy audience
  • Mobile display is primarily a branding medium
  • Mobile creative really matters
  • Mobile is not a stand-alone channel but one component of a multi-channel strategy
  • Current thinking about mobile analytics and ROI probably obscure the degree to which existing brand awareness played into engagement with the campaign

This is one survey and it captures attitudes not actual behavior. But it’s very interesting and should prompt marketers to reflect on their assumptions about mobile and ads.

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