Mobile first ads are essential, but they don’t always have to be short

The most effective mobile ads are not always short, according to Google. Facebook seems to disagree, after publishing a study of why adverts created specifically for mobiles have greater impact than adapted TV ads, finding that brevity is an essential ingredient.

However, both agree that context and timing are most important of all and that exploiting location intelligently is also key to success.

As Facebook noted, it is often wrongly assumed that location of mobile users only matters when the product or service advertised happens to be near where they are and is available as well as relevant at that time of day. But being aware of a user’s location combined with context can also help deliver relevant ads that trigger a user’s interests even when no immediate purchase is likely.

Facebook recently conducted a survey finding that ads categorized as ‘mobile first’ – designed purely for that medium – achieved the best results on every count, while those created for TV with no adaptation for mobile fared worst. Those created originally for TV but adapted for mobile came in the middle. For example, in tests, 46% of consumers shown ads in the mobile first category were able to recall the brand afterwards, compared with 31% for the ‘adapted to mobile’ category, and just 23% for the ‘traditional narratives’ format.

The study noted that mobile first ads tended to be shorter, lasting 20 seconds on average, though it seems to assume this was a factor in their success when it could have been coincidental. Earlier research by Google found that longer ads could work well on mobile if they really played to the medium and grabbed users’ attention.

In one experiment Google found that the mobile first version of an ad not only attracted more views but longer ones. The conclusion was that certain classes of ad will succeed on mobiles almost as entertainment and that brands should get away from the prevailing dogma that it should always be a cut down version of the traditional 30-second TV spot.

Google agreed with Facebook that location can be exploited indirectly as well as directly. In one test it found that asking people locally relevant questions to trigger their interest worked. For example, people in San Francisco served an ad that featured the Golden Gate Bridge might be asked ‘How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?’ This locally-relevant approach succeeded in increasing daily active users by 85% compared to a control group.

Where everyone agrees is that a mobile first strategy is essential and that ads must take full account not just of the small screen but the situation in which they are playing. This means that they must work without sound, for they will most often be viewed in video only. That alone is one reason why many ads originally designed for TV do not transform readily without being completely revamped.

Timing also becomes more critical relative to relevance. While relevance always comes out as top priority in surveys of consumer responses to targeted online ads shown on desktops or tablets, timing was ranked higher for mobile ads in a survey by Forrester. But by timing, this study meant in relation to on-screen activities rather than time of day. Among 1,000 smartphone owners in North America aged 18-47 who had seen a mobile ad in the previous 30 days, 60% said that to create a positive mobile ad experience it was very important that the ad have a minimal level of disruption to their current activity. Just 42% said it was very important the ad be relevant to their interests.

This gels with the Facebook finding that advertisers need to strike a fine balance between making brands or associated messages stand out clearly on the small screen and avoiding annoying the user with obtrusive ads. That balance might best be struck by embedding ads within apps starting with a small panel inviting users to opt-in, fading away quickly if they do not.

A study by in-app mobile video advertising platform MediaBrix found that on average 90% of mobile users watched a full 30-second video ad when embedded in an app, compared with only 25% when exposed to the same ad as a full-page interstitial appearing while a web page or while an app was loading.

While this must be taken with the caveat that this was the result MediaBrix was wanting to hear as an in-app specialist in the field, their conclusion that mobile users are put off full page ads that are in your face is clearly right. It found that such full-page video interstitial ads triggered a fight-or-flight response twice as often in an embedded mobile ad, with viewers usually seeking the X button immediately to expunge the ad.
So mobile first is about placement, timing, context and location, not necessarily in that order.