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Why Facebook's Canvas and Google's AMP represent a watershed moment for mobile advertising

If Charles Darwin were a mobile marketing researcher, he would be very interested in events that occurred during February 2016 for his study on the evolution of mobile advertising. Specifically, he’ll want to explore how the introduction of Facebook Canvas and Google AMP unleashed powerful new advertising experiences for marketers, brands, advertisers and consumers.  

Late February, Facebook announced Canvas, a new fullscreen mobile ad format that can instantaneously load many types of interactive content, including animations, images, GIFs, videos and more. How instantaneous? As much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web, according to Facebook.

At the same time, Google officially rolled out AMP (short for Accelerated Mobile Pages). AMP is an open source project that essentially enables mobile webpages to load in a snap. How fast is a snap? Google says mobile web pages load 85 per cent faster with AMP. Faster rendering means more pageviews, leading to more ad views (which also load much faster, though Google did not specify how quickly).

Although ads are only a part of AMP while Canvas is an ad product in itself, there is a clear connection between the two, with far reaching implications for the mobile advertising industry. Both of these advances bring mobile 'cloud-based' engagements to near native-loading times. By dramatically reducing loading time, the user experience is vastly improved – and with these moves, Google and Facebook are essentially telling the world that the user experience is now the single most important component of mobile advertising, for users and businesses alike.

When two of the top players in the digital world make such clear and similar statements on the state of the industry through their products, others will undoubtedly follow.

Let’s take a step back to understand how we ended up where we are. Up until now, mobile users haven’t been very satisfied with their overall experience. In fact, 61 per cent do not feel that their mobile experience expectations are being met.

Mobile advertising is part of the problem, especially when users click on an ad and find themselves waiting too long for the content to load – one of the primary reasons users abandon a website or content that’s initially of interest. Add to that the fact that 60 per cent of mobile clicks on banner ads are accidental, while 66% of users who do notice these ads find them irrelevant. With such a poor user experience, it should come as no surprise that only 39 per cent of users in North America trust mobile ads, the lowest of any ad format.

Facebook and Google are well aware of this. They are answering the call by setting a new standard in mobile. This time, the user is at the center. Which is exactly what marketers want because better experience leads to better ad engagement and happier customers.

What’s interesting to note is that although both tech giants agree that the current state of the mobile web is mainly to blame, they have very different approaches when it comes to the solution.

Facebook is completely app-centered. Other than its own massively popular apps, the social giant owns top apps like Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In May, it launched Instant Articles – which allows publishers to host content directly on Facebook to enable rapid load time and provide audiences with an enhanced, native experience. Now, with the introduction of Canvas (referred to by some as Instant Articles for Ads), Facebook is offering the same concept for advertisers. According to the social network, when users click on an ad, it “needs to load quickly, look beautiful on mobile and allow people to take action easily,” which implies an in-app contextual experience in which an ad is like a natural extension of the app’s content, not a misplaced add-on.

For Google, however, the mobile web is extremely important because of its connection to search (and search dollars). That’s why it’s making every effort to improve the mobile web, stating: “If content is fast, flexible and beautiful, including compelling and effective ads, we can preserve the open web publishing model.”

Canvas and AMP are also likely to impact ad blocking, an increasingly sensitive hot-button issue. As mentioned, many users are frustrated with mobile ads that are sluggish, irrelevant, or lead to accidental clicks. That’s why they install ad blockers.

The good news for mobile marketers is that, with a focus now shifting towards an improved experience on all fronts, we’ll see users increasingly realising that ads deliver more quality and value (or at least that ads do not negatively impact their experience). In such a reality, ad blocking suddenly becomes less of an issue, as users have far less motivation to even consider installing one.

To sum up, this is the beginning of a new era in mobile advertising with a much faster, more attractive, and improved mobile experience. This will lead to a better mobile marketing ecosystem with users who are more engaged and marketers who are able to better connect with their consumers.

Ran Avrahamy is VP marketing at AppsFlyer

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