Why I’m skeptical about mobile advertising

At this stage in the game, I can see how expressing my skepticism about advertising on smartphone and tablet formats might not be taken entirely seriously. The figures speak for themselves: a market estimated at around half a billion dollars that some companies are making a notable success off, with impressive results.

Nevertheless, I’m skeptical. Without wishing to generalize, I believe this is still a market in which only a few are proving successful, those who really known how to interpret it, and that there are any number of ill-informed companies circling round the few winners, who have been convinced that they need to be present in the mobile market “whatever happens”, and that the only thing they are getting out of this are crazy metrics and virtually zero efficiency.

Allow me to explain: to begin with, advertising is not an easy business. But in the particular case of the mobile market, given its relative newness, and the different uses it is put to, make it even harder to understand. Facebook made clear in its first results after going public in 2012 that its main challenge was making money out mobile users, which at that time was a growing market, particularly in emerging economies. And while it now seems to be doing so, my impression is that what Facebook does bears little resemblance to what I see in other formats.

My smartphone screen is a very special place: space is at a premium, even on my biggest devices. Just about any advertisement occupies a space that I’d rather use for content, and gets in the way. If we add the classic techniques that have failed on computer screens: pop ups, pre-activated videos, etc, and whose creators should forever rot in hell, my conclusion is clear: if something is a drag on a computer screen, it is 10 times more so on a smartphone.

To me, Facebook’s mobile results are significant for two reasons: firstly, because I didn’t expect them to be so good; and second, because although I tend to access Facebook via a smartphone most of the time, I can’t ever remember seeing an advertisement on it. There could be many reasons for this: the Spanish market is significantly less developed than others such as the US. But I fear that Facebook, in the same way that Twitter and a few other companies are trying to do, wants to reinvent advertising, to make it something voluntary, that I want to see, otherwise it will be annoying and its impact notably reduced, or even counterproductive.

If I think about whether I have really seen any advertisements on my smartphone when I use Facebook, I realize that I have, and what’s more, I asked to. They have come surrounded by other content, sometimes related because they came from search or recommendation algorithms, and were clearly identified with the name of the advertsiers in the corresponding account, and I saw them because I freely chose to do so.

Did seeing these ads make me want to buy these companies’ products, to recommend them, to resend the advertisements, or to share them with friends? I think they did. In fact I think I have shared advertisements. It’s the same with Twitter: I can imagine myself clicking a link to a sponsored account or a tweet or trending topic if the content providing the context is reasonably attractive. But… if you interrupt me, occupy the screen when I am using it, force me to watch your ad for five or ten interminable seconds, then I’ll hate your brand.

I am skeptical about mobile advertising because the few companies making any money out of it had to redesign their advertising model at great cost; the rest are just doomed to repeat earlier mistakes.

In short, a lot of companies are misinterpreting the metrics: users who mistakenly click on an advertisement, or who have seen a pre-roll, but having had to suffer it for half a minute, now hate the advertiser in question. These metrics are unable to analyze what users really think of these advertising formats.

If your company is thinking about entering the smartphone advertising market, remember this. I may be the exception, or some kind of Taliban, but greater awareness of these issues can only help with developing a strategy. My patience is infinitely more limited on smartphones than on bigger screens. Please… get out of my face, or you’ll be sorry.

(En español, aquí)

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