What's the matter with mobile advertising?

By Candide McDonald | 9 December 2015

This article first appeared in AdNews in print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.

Perhaps you disagree with me about mobile advertising. Maybe you know of some mobile work that has made you say, “I wish I’d thought of that!”. Even I can name a couple of examples that wowed me. But a couple? For the fastest growing medium?

Mobile advertising is a challenge. Tiny screen. The whole personal space thing. But it’s the job of ad creatives to conquer challenges. So, why does mobile advertising still fail to dazzle? Check out what below's creatives think:

Mike Hill Banner1

The word ‘dazzle’ here makes me think that we are judging mobile as a creative storytelling canvas rather than a communication platform. Advertising isn’t there just to entertain anymore. It’s not all dazzle. Our job now is also to inform and educate. Not as sexy for adland, but just as valuable at shifting perception on a topic or brand.

As much as I love having the entire world’s library in my pocket, the phone experience is just not good enough yet for entertainment purposes beyond games and videos, one being fairly niche and the other fairly passive, from a brand’s point of view.

I don’t think I’ve had my phone off silent for two weeks now. I’m very rarely in a situation where I can have the sound on. How do you create ‘dazzle’ experiences when one of the crucial multimedia senses can’t be relied on?

That doesn’t mean mobile has to be bland. Quite the contrary. Burberry’s Snapchat Testino campaign is a great example of how we are finding new ways to communicate and use mobile as the glue that holds it all together. Its agency innovated the comms strategy as much as it thought creatively about the messaging. But ultimately the creative in this idea played nicely into the ecosystem it was made for.

We need to stop talking channels and simply talk about campaigns and platforms as the sums of all of their parts. Mobile might not be the main event for something glorious, but it could be the device that brings new life into the beloved passive channels that we so dearly cling to.

And by being the glue, it can also be the first entry point into a brand engagement.

Marco Eychenne





Mobile has changed the way we, as creators, get in touch with our audiences. With customers’ hands and eyes glued to their precious ‘Gollum’ devices, no one seems to be immune from the mobile addiction. Which is a great thing from a marketing perspective, because users are closer and quicker to respond and engage with quality content.

Brands that understand that marketing and service can be blended will have the ring of power in the mobile space. I wish I’d worked on Beats by Dr Dre, which was designed to be mobile-first from the start. Mobile has transformed interfaces to become less cluttered, more in tune with individuals. Beats is a beautiful example of that.

The Mercedes-Benz USA Build Your Own Instagram campaign, which allowed users to create their own custom versions of the car on the photosharing platform, is a smart demonstration of marketing adaptability. Everyone is familiar with car customisers on automobile manufacturers’ websites, but by creating a car configurator on Instagram, Mercedes-Benz got to connect with the elusive millennial crowd. It’s totally cool.

Ben Coulson





If we are talking about just the ads on mobile platforms, then yes, mobile advertising is really crap. I can think of one mobile ad that I remember and liked, just one, in the whole world, ever. It was an iPad car ad. When you swiped it, the car crashed into the edge of the frame. Beyond that, it’s pure unwanted interruption.

If we’re talking about interesting and useful things brands are doing on mobile devices, it’s a totally different story. Smart brands are glued into pretty much everything I do on my phone: checking the weather, reading the news, movie times, improving my surfing technique.

It’s a great platform for brands to create more than just ads. With mobile, I like to think of what we can do with the medium, not just the ad space on it.

 Simon Lee Banner




Simon Lee Creative response

Murray White banner



















Is there room in mobile advertising for creativity? Will there ever be? In the classic sense, it’s hard to be optimistic. Device screens keep getting smaller and Kate Upton already looks ridiculous 12 pixels high, crammed into one of the many Game of War mobile display banners, ruining my every Gumtree search. But let’s look at the facts.

Disregarding responsive formatting of the general web on your phone, for the most part there are two types of mobile advertising commonly in use today: in-app display and own-app display.

The first is ideally contextually relevant to the app it’s placed within, and hence, should create opportunities for insight-led messaging. But with the multitude of variables associated with this approach, producing it would be cost-prohibitive.

And why would anyone pay for creativity in this space when the hyper-sensitive banners can be so cleverly laid at the very location you place your thumb to scroll?

Then you have the frustrations of the small screen and its tightlypacked display duping you into ghost clicks and data and timewasting detours. Click-through may be the metric of success in today’s world, but how can traffic generated in this fashion do anything but harm a brand?

Own-app display may follow many of the same formats, but is generally restricted to the app owner’s own products and services. In this case, they crosssell or upsell and maximise the platform for both the brand and the user. No flies on that.

But in terms of inspiring tailored creativity, there’s no invite for that at the door. You’ve already downloaded the app. The banner is just another menu option really. So that’s how things stand. Inapp display is junk mail for your fingertips and own-app display can be a helpful interruption.

Intelligent use of mobile display advertising is leveraging the power of the device itself, with messages tailored to the time, location and activity of the device owner.

Wearable devices are definitely opening up a new frontier here. It’s exciting. They’ll create room to innovate and positively change behaviour. How? I don’t know how yet. Those screens are tiny. Thankfully, they vibrate.

Maybe we’ll see Morse code make a comeback in mobile advertising. Imagine that – emojis expressed as dots and dashes.

Adam Ferrier Banner

There is amazing advertising in mobile and some people are doing a great job. It just doesn’t look much like advertising. Branded content and branded entertainment - both consumed with gay abandon on mobile - is advertising.

However, interruptive advertising isn’t working as well. There are three reasons for this: 1. Screen size (there’s little room for an ad); 2. The thumb is very close to the screen, so we can choose to not view the ad incredibly easily; and 3. Intimacy: we’re in a cocooned space when on mobile. We want less interruption.

All that said, it’s still a relatively new opportunity area and we’ll get better at understanding the medium with time and focus. Mobile will shortly become the primary way brands and consumers connect. Because of this, the strategic and creative thinking around the opportunity will improve shortly.

Andy miller banner

What’s up with mobile advertising? In most cases, you can safely shoot the messenger, not the medium. A simple, unexpected and true-to-life story goes a long way to creating compelling advertising in any channel, but it’s not everything.

How do you make sure your next mobile advertising campaign doesn’t suck? Plan the experience beyond the ad. In the rush for some organisations to tick mobile advertising off their marketing to-do list, many fail to design an experience beyond the ad – one tailored to mobile. We see this all the time.

Imagine reading the SMH on your tablet, being served a very pretty piece of mobile advertising, introducing ‘locally famous’, independent businesses around Sydney. It’s an attractive proposition until we tap through to a campaign site that is entirely illegible on a tablet. We hate seeing great ideas wasted in this way.

Be useful. Whether it’s Apple opening the gates for adblocking software or Google rewarding interesting content in search ranking, the message is loud and clear: advertising is a dirty word. One increasingly being replaced by “content marketing”.

It’s a blurry line, with the one critical distinction being whether your audience is forced to suffer through it or choose to watch and even share it with their network. If you’re not making the effort to understand your audience and be there at the right moment to help them solve a real problem, you’re not in the game.

Use the power of context. The potential of mobile advertising is not that mobile devices account for 50% of visits to your
website. Nor is it that searches, video consumption and online purchases are all rising rapidly on mobile devices.

To realise the true potential of mobile, we need to design for the increased visibility on user context, available in most mobile channels. Location, app installs and call tracking, as a start.

Candide McDonald also heads creative new site TheStable.com.au

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