How to be successful in mobile: Ditch the desktop mentality and stop looking for the 'new shiny thing'

Advertisers need to enrich the storytelling experience, snap out of the desktop-mindset, and start building multiple creative iterations if they are ever going to be successful in mobile, say industry experts at a recent roundtable discussion hosted by The Drum in association with Video Intelligence.

Consumers are spending more time than ever on digital devices according to eMarketer, while the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US has found that mobile advertising is translating into sales, accounting for 47% of all revenues from online advertising there. Despite this, the ad industry is still not maximising its potential to engage with consumers, which some say is due to a general lack of understanding of mobile and how to engage consumers with it.

These concerns are raised by experts gathered at a roundtable to discuss why the ad industry is stuck in a traditional broadcast mentality and failing to keep pace with consumers’ move to mobile. Alex Kozloff, director of marketing and industry engagement at IAB UK, says Snapchat is a great example of getting content right on mobile, but wonders why advertisers can’t translate that storytelling in advertising: “In the last few years I have seen a massive improvement in the way content is presented on mobile. Obviously, consumers have been reacting to that. Where the gap is getting bigger and bigger is in advertising. We have not kept up. It’s frustrating.”

So what is causing this problem? Most of the experts agree that the ad industry is not taking a “consumer-first” approach and thinking about how consumers actually engage with their mobiles. As Steve Broadhead, senior vice-president of sales at Video Intelligence, says: “With mobile, it’s so important to get the creative right so you hit the right person.”

Nick Reid, managing director at TubeMogul, adds: “When it comes to video, we are still trying to stick a 30-second TV ad on a mobile phone.”

Who’s to blame for adblocking?

The installation of adblockers is a huge problem in the industry. It is predicted that by 2020, adblocking will cost US media owners $12bn. But getting the message to the consumer in a short time-frame is difficult, says Broadhead. “Having to tell a story within three seconds is a huge challenge.” But Paul Mead, founder and chairman at VCCP Media, says it is far too easy to blame creatives for the rise of adblocking on mobiles: “When it comes to 200 million people using adblockers, clearly there is something about the experience that isn’t quite right. People are switching them on because of the user experience issue, bandwidth and other things related to it. You don’t have to get the whole thing out in one 30 second creative.”

Patricia Lopez, head of Havas Group’s Mobext, agrees that too much focus gets put on creative while we “completely neglect the fact most branded sites are not mobile optimised”.

“When we are looking at the experience, we have to look at the full picture. In our team, creative people sit with media people. Being able to manage both components and not keep them separate is quite important.”

Advertisers are still stuck in a desktop mindset

Last year Google said advertisers place less value on mobile than they do on desktop because conversions are harder to see on mobile. And for Daniel Rosen, global director of advertising at Telefonica, this desktop mentality is “blinding creativity,” resulting in “average mobile experiences”.

For Ben Philips, global head of mobile at MediaCom, technology is a key factor in enabling the desktop mindset as people are still using desktop in delivering measurement: “It’s probably only over the last year we have been able to tell that story and show where mobile fits into that consumer engagement journey. So more adoption of mobile technology is starting to help that a bit.”

The problem of KPIs and metrics

The discussion then moves on to how advertisers use metrics to report their campaigns to clients. The problem of measuring clicks and performance remains a persistent issue in the industry.

For Chris Appleton, head of brand display at PHD Media, part of the challenge is “dealing with different suppliers” who have their own in-house benchmarks: “To a client, it’s just a mobile campaign, just an extension of audience. For us, we have to delve a lot deeper – we don’t want to make it the client’s problem but it’s a big task.”

Philips reminds everyone of the suspension of Google DoubleClick for Publishers in September, which went “under the radar”. He is unsurprised by the suspension, meaning it can’t count mobile impressions correctly: “It’s a big issue. We are starting from a very negative place. You’re using desktop solutions to measure mobile count numbers.”

Mead says mobile has “broken the cookie” and it doesn’t matter what system you use. “If you can’t track it, it doesn’t matter whether your campaign is a brand campaign or a direct response campaign. That is a huge challenge.”

James Booth, founder and chief executive officer at Scoota, talks about how the “intrusive nature” of mobile might be making the industry less willing to experiment: “You can’t start testing the market like you can with the desktop stuff. We are very active in dedicated mobile formats because we have to be, but our approach is with trepidation. We have to be careful about how we deliver new solutions.”

Any solutions?

Overall, most agree that Snapchat is a great example of a company that has got mobile right – it offers tailored experiences with the right content and is a great brand-building product. But even if brands and advertisers get the storytelling right, measuring the success of it remains a challenge.

So what can be done? Rosen thinks the media industry should stop hunting “for the next shiny thing” and simply concentrate on improving the mobile experience: “It’s like, ‘we’ve done mobile now, so onto VR’. We should be thinking ‘there is so much more we can do in mobile to optimise it and make it better for consumers and brands’. We could take a third of the effort that has gone into VR and put it into existing challenges with mobile.”

Mead sees plenty of potential in using tech to provide more immersive experiences. “Look at the billions spent on sports sponsorship, and yet what do they do with a group of 60,000 people in one stadium apart from give them a perimeter advertising board? You could geo-fence and do something more interactive that is an immersive part of that experience – that’s something mobile is made for. That’s where the exciting possibilities are, rather than worrying about formats or about how we shove a different sized picture into a tiny box.”

Kozloff refers to the success of video on Snapchat and Facebook: “Consumers don’t seem to be pushing back on it.” But she admits that while location providers are doing amazing things tying up attribution to in-store, “we will never sort out the tech 100%”.

As the session nears its end there is general agreement that the user experience needs to improve on mobile, even if the future remains uncertain. The big tech players, Google and Facebook, have been hugely successful in driving mobile advertising – but things change quickly in the industry.

Mead sees a move from both agencies and advertisers towards bigger, cleaner ecosystems: “More and more dollars will shift towards the bigger players who will have better solutions that work from a user experience point of view.”

Rosen disagrees and doesn’t think Google or Facebook will lead the ad industry to the promised land: “I understand the reason for being drawn to the major players in the market, but the reality is, they’ve adapted desktop advertising to mobile.”

The key findings from this roundtable discussion will be explored further in an upcoming report on adopting a mobile mindset in the advertising industry.

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