Thursday 8 December 2016

Mobile is on the up. But where will the ads go?

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

‘I legitimately love cereal so I’ll work with Honey Nut Cheerios – I just try to keep it real...’
‘I legitimately love cereal so I’ll work with Honey Nut Cheerios – I just try to keep it real...’

Internet advertising will become the largest global advertising category by 2019 and by that time mobile advertising will have overtaken display ads. That's according to PwC's latest report on global entertainment and media.

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While most advertisers are well aware of the growth in importance of the mobile devices, few seem to be grappling with the ramifications of the smaller screen.

Fewer pixels and a more personal relationship with devices means advertisers have less real estate to impart their messages - and audiences are less tolerant of interruptive ad units. It's a double whammy.

So what's a marketer to do? As the audience grows increasingly mobile and the screens shrink, where do all the ads go?

One solution to this conundrum is native advertising - that is, advertising masquerading as non-commercial content.

BuzzFeed is the top dog in this arena, and while it's best known for listicles, GIFs and its "slidey-thing" (that's actually what it's called, honest), its real innovation is native advertising.

BuzzFeed gets around 190 million unique visitors a month, but those eyeballs aren't monetised with display ads. Instead, it creates stories for brands that are engineered to be shared on social media to reach the maximum audience.

It doesn't serve ads on its own site; it creates commercial content, in line with its own editorial ethos, which will spread across the internet on blogs and social media.

But native advertising isn't for everyone. Increased virality means a softer sell. And getting the balance wrong can have a harmful effect on both advertiser and publisher.

Last year, branded content firm Contently conducted research that found 66pc of readers felt deceived when they realised that content they were consuming was sponsored by a brand. And 57pc said they'd rather have banner ads over native advertising.

Unsurprisingly, Apple, Google and Facebook are well aware of how mobile is changing media consumption patterns and advertising opportunities. They're busy honing platforms and products such as Apple News, Google Play Newsstand and Facebook Instant Articles.

These are ecosystems for content consumption native to each platform. So as not to spook the publishers, the trio of tech titans are offering revenue shares for advertising sold against their content. Advertisers can work either with publishers or the technology companies to buy ads.

And other apps are also allowing brands reach consumers in a direct manner.

Snapchat has its own Discover Channels for media outlets. And while it has axed its Sponsored Stories ads, it is facilitating partnerships between brands and Snapchat personalities.

One such personality is Sean McBride, aka Shonduras, a Mormon skateboard salesman who made a name for himself by doodling on photos. According to Forbes, brands are willing to pay up to $30,000 for the pleasure of working with Shonduras. And here's his take on it: "I'm not going to do advertisements that I don't believe in. I legitimately like Taco Bell. I'll work with them. I legitimately love cereal so I'll work with Honey Nut Cheerios. I love Samsung phones over iPhones, so I'll work with Samsung. I just try to keep it real."

Instagram shares a similar sense of immediacy to Snapchat. And a similar young, mobile-first, advertising-wary audience.

Sure it has big brand accounts that promote their wares, but it also has celebrated brand advocates who offer advertisers access to their fans. One recent example was how Nike promoted its Airmax 90 as the 'sneaker of the week' on its sportswear Instagram account (2.5 million followers). Basketball superstar and Nike shill LeBron James (11.7 million followers) then takes a photo of the self-same runners on his own size 12s, with hashtags like #SwooshLifer and #NikeOrDie. Finally, a host of leisurewear and style accounts join the fray with their own photos of the footwear.

The result is a virtuous circle, where audiences interested in particular brands are likely to be connected to a network of influencers to creates a sense of brand ubiquity amongst the community.

This isn't an exhaustive list of mobile marketing strategies, but one thing seems to be common amongst them all. The growth of the small screen is fundamentally changing the audience's - and perhaps an entire generation's - relationship with advertising.

Given the limited screen space, and ubiquity of our devices, even the smallest ad can seem like a big intrusion. So creating advertorial-style content that elicits an emotional response, serving ads in controlled mobile-first environments, and working with personalities who offer access to a mobile first community all pander to the user-centricity of the mobile experience. And mobile users have little time for interruptions.

This user-centricity makes it less important what brands say - and more important how it's said, and who's saying it on their behalf.

Mobile - as a medium that's low on real estate - means ads must be high on relevancy. As advertisers figure out how best to adapt to the demands of mobile, meaningful relationships may well become more important than reach. And trust may become more important than targeting.

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