Coca-Cola, Kraft and Papa John’s bare scars in battle to make ‘mobile advertising not suck’

Mobile is heralded as the solution to effective cross-platform marketing but for Coca-Cola, Kraft and Papa John’s harnessing the unique intimacy and portability of the medium remains elusive in strategies labouring to break from the performance-obsessed models of the desktop.

“Mobile advertising sucks,” agreed all three companies at SXSW. Redundant ad formats, limited expertise and a marketer’s fear of missing out were slammed by the brands for stunting their use of mobile though they all claim to be nurturing a mobile first approach now that isn’t trying to fit a responsive ad into a mobile screen.

The efforts vary in maturity but each brand is trying to elevate their baseline level of mobile IQ, through training programmes and agencies, to ensure their marketers know they can’t get away of tackling an Instagram campaign in the same they a TV ad. It will take time for the strategies to flourish but the brands now have the battle scars and importantly more experience to finally understand what it will take to marry the content and context of their mobile efforts.

Coke strives to make mobile marketing a sixth sense

For a company as old as the 127-year Coca-Cola, the challenge is taking what it does best in telling stories and evolving that for the mobile consumer increasingly making purchases from their phones. “Mobile advertising sucks because we’re approaching it in the same way we approach traditional advertising,” admitted Zoe Levine, senior digital marketing manager at Coke.

“At Coke we wouldn’t put out an ok TV spot but we’re ok with putting out an OK banner ad, which to me is almost unacceptable. Mobile is such a personal device. Peoples lives are on that phone. You can’t throw a firehose message out that. I want personalised content.”

Coke’s mobile strategy envisions a world where people buy a drink from their mobile, resulting in them holding their device in one hand and a Coca-Cola in the other. There are lot more people holding a phone - 7 billion - than there are holding a Coke – 1.9 billion – according to the drinks business and the aim is to harness the ubiquity of the medium to win at the point of sale.

The company is sifting through the reams of data it has on customers to shape these efforts, placing some bets on proximity in the belief that understanding where a person is in context to where they can get a Coke could prove key.

While its mobile marketing view is maturing, Coke is still being led by the technology rather than the consumer in some instances. Levine used the brand’s latest beacons test to clarify the point, which sees it partner with restaurants and vendors in Atlanta through the Mid Town Red app to serve ads urging people to go into store to purchase a Coke.

This approach isn’t “sustainable”, admitted Levine. Especially if you don’t know how I’m interacting with the brand. If I’m a loyal Coca-Cola drinker then why would you spend the money on getting me to go out and buy [one] if I’m already going to do that? We’re talking about mobile so broadly but the real opportunity is to get so targeted.

The issue is compounded by the company’s 70:20:10 rule, which limits innovation spend to 10 per cent of its campaign budget as well as a dearth of best practice guidelines on how to think mobile first. “We have such a hard time at Coca-Cola finding the small data within this mass data to make informed decisions. If you think about precision marketing then that’s how we should be doing mobile advertising today,” Levine said.

“Once we get to that point or when [mobile marketing] is a practice within our organisation then we’ll be able to better inform our agency partners as well,” she continued. “[That 10 per cent for innovation] is interesting way to approach innovation because you’re almost pigeonholed into 10 per cent of your time and that’s across the board, from mobile to social, ect.”

Kraft wants brand building creativity from mobile

Kraft is facing similar issues but is already seeing its fledgling mobile approach move the dial when it comes to the way it plans its annual cycle of activity for its brands.

Marketing for brands such as Oscar Mayer has shifted to a rhythm of five activations a year now around big, creative brand building ideas. For example, Kraft’s Oscar Mayer food brand Oscar Mayer offered fans the chance to lease a “Wienermobile” (see video) in exchange for a Tweet last January before the launch of its “Wake up and smell the bacon” iPhone app. It also ran a social media push to promote turkey bacon, the "unsung hero of the bacon family" it claimed, with a social media fellow second fiddle Michael Bacon – the mostly-unknown brother of movie star Kevin.

“All of a sudden people were asking where this brand came from. This old brand that saw its best days in the 70s is all of a suddenly doing a lot of cool virals. That’s what we’re going after now,” explained Tom Bick, senior marketing director of Kraft Foods. “Our big bets aren’t on technology. It’s the ideas. We would never have done this stuff three or four years ago. For us it’s about using mobile for brand building rather than the transactions.”

Papa John’s kicks out fear of missing out attitude to mobile

Despite essentially being a commerce business, Papa John’s backed the notion of brand first rather than performance when it comes to mobile. The pizza chain, which does very little mobile advertising, said it looks at mobile not as an advertising medium so much as a way to make a lot of its customers lives easier when it comes to how and when they want a pizza.

With an attitude like this, it is unsurprising that Papa John’s is ahead of most marketers when it comes to mobile with sales from the channel pushing digital to account for half its annual sales in the US in 2014. However, the retailer refuses to rest on its laurels and said customers can expect an “exciting innovation” that will try and resolve lingering “pain points” throughout the path to purchase within the month. The business sees mobile as key to enhancing its email offering, which it deems a critical channel to the way it surfaces personalised content.

Jim Ensign, vice president of global digital marketing at Papa John’s, said: “Marketers have this fear of missing out that if they don’t do something then somebody else is going to do it. We’re throwing so much at the wall and I’m really worried that we’re going to kill the goose that’s going to lay the golden egg [in mobile] in about five years.”

When and how will mobile advertising be any good?

The figurative golden egg can only be discovered if marketers have the tools to reach consumers and at the moment those they have leave a lot to be desired. Mobile units; from static banners to expanding ones were accepted by all three companies as a necessary evil but they admittedly yearn for more expansive formats. Sharper targeting was touted as a short term solution to rising banner fatigue with the real frustration for brands and media agencies alike being that there are not enough creative formats at scale.

It is why Coke is increasingly turning toward the likes of Snapchat and WhatsApp, platforms that offer personalisation at scale. Social media could become a viable outlet to push out more online video, which Levine felt was going to be key to mobile advertising revenue spikes moving forward.

“Mobile advertising is social and social advertising is mobile – period, said Coke’s Levine. “The targeting capabilities on social are getting more robust which excites me, especially from a mobile perspective such as one-on one-communications. I get more excited about a Snapchat opportunity and WhatsApp. How brands are going to embed themselves into this very personal conversation in a natural organic way is something no one has figured out yet. We’re talking about mobile so broadly but the real opportunity is to get so targeted."

Coke and Kraft were also mindful of the role publishers play in their mobile gambits but revealed there is still disparity between what brand and media owner wanted, particularly when it came to issues such as viewability.

Additionally, both are still working out how to comprehensively measure their mobile marketing, whether they stick to traditional metrics or rely on the ever-widening pool of newer alternatives.

Kraft’s Bick said: “We’re drowning in different metrics but at the end of the deal most big clients would tend to look at one big measurement at the end of the period. For us we still use marketing mix modelling but everything has to show up in the marketing mix. The thing that’s ironic about that is they are the linear model – each event is theoretically independent. What we’re doing as brand marketers try to do multi-touch attribution and say that the sum of the [marketing] is greater than the individual parts.”

Mobile connections are forecasted to grow over seven times by 2020. All those possible connections will mean marketers will need to make mobile a sixth sense, converting the analogue world around us into digital signals distributed, interpreted and shared across mobile networks.

Get the Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights.

Subscribe

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

All by Seb