Introduction to Mobile Advertising

by Lawrence Harte

Mobile ad click-through rates of 3% to 4% are not uncommon, and the author attributes this to the targeting capabilities of the medium, plus the fact that few advertisers have begun to exploit it, and there have not been many instances of abuse. His goal in writing this book is to encourage those who move to advertising in this medium to understand how to do it well, to keep it from becoming another nuisance that consumers learn to ignore.

Mobile Ad Types

Text ads are common, given the limitations of the medium, and are more limited than on the Web. A typical text ad ranges from 16 to 32 characters.

Image ads are also being used. There are graphic banners, interstitial images, and animated banners. The size of banners varies, and is generally limited by the device that displays them and the content owner's willingness to share scarce real estate. A small ad may be 128 x 21 pixels, and a full-screen one may vary from 176 x 208 pixels for some phones, and 240 x 320 for others (large-screen displays such as the iPhone).

Video ads a new, and largely rare because of the limited bandwidth. Some experiments are beginning, generally with "bumper ads" which appear at the beginning or end of video content.

There are also "ad applications" - software that is provided to the user for the sake of promoting a sale. For example, a hotel chain might provide a free application to allow users to find hotel locations near them.

Mobile Ad Response Types

Mobile Content Channel Types

Presently, there are very few "channels" (sites or applciations) that are used by mobile phone users:

Mobile Device Capability

Presently, the capabilities of mobile devices remain very limited. They are evolving and becoming more sophisticated, but the evolution has already taken many years and provided only marginal improvements. Some limitations are inherent in the device (which must be cheap and portable). Making the phone behave more like a computer turns it into a bad phone, and a bad computer.

The display size of mobile devices is very small. Resolution can be boosted to cram more "pixels" into a small space, but that makes each pixel smaller, and there is a limit to the size of type a human can read. The quality of the display (depth and contrast) tends to be limited, and environmental lighting can have dramatic effects.

Media formats are also limited: a small amount of text, some images (GIF, JPEG), a few audio formats (MP3, AAC), and a few video formats (MP4, MOV, WMV,SWF) are "playable" on a mobile device.

The ability to control presentation via markup is limited. There are a few competing languages for marking up content for display and controlling screen-to-screen transitions.

User input is varied, but clumsy: there are keypads, pointer controls, touch screen, and voice-input, but much of this is controlled by (and limited to controlling) the device itself.

Bandwidth remains a limitation. Connection speed for mobile devices has increased significantly, but it is still poor.

Applications can be developed for phones, but generally are useable only by a single model, and there is no universal language for all phones.

There are also a wide array of devices in present circulation, such that no single set of specifications can be used to reach a mass of users: you must target certain models of phone, and modify the site extensively to suit each model's capabilities and limitations.

Ad Transmission Options

There are various "push" methods for sending messages to users - the various acronyms basically come down to the same thing: you can send a text message of various lengths or even media files to the desired user.

The "mobile web" is more of a "pull" method that is, quite simply, a Web site designed for viewing on a mobile device.

Some devices have streaming media capabilities, that can receive selected programming as a service from the device manufacturer (without having to receive them via e-mail or go to a Web site).

There area also "off-network connections", enabling a message sent from one device to be received by another without having to pass through the central provider. Users share files via Bluetooth, wireless LAN, and infrared.

Finally, the author mentions viral marketing, because everyone's spazzing out over "viral." It simply means a message that is forwarded from user to user rather than sent out from an advertiser to each user.

Mobile Ad Content Guidelines

Some suggested guidelines for creating mobile ads:

Mobile Landing Page

The mobile "landing page" is a Web page that the user arrives at immediately after clicking an ad.

The amount of information that be contained in the landing page is very small, so the message must be succinct and the call-to-action clear. You cannot count on feeding a sequence of pages.

Provide multiple methods to act on an offer. Not all devices are convenient to use to do data-entry, and some individuals may prefer to call.

Mobile Ad Campaigns

Typically, a mobile ad campaign focuses on promoting products or events, or getting customers to sign up to receive information in the future.

Advertisements can be a standard "promo," or may take a more interactive approach (a poll/survey, a game or quiz, a contest, etc.)

One of the advantages of a mobile campaign over the Web is that the advertising can be tracked to a specific known individual (though a "viral" ad that can be forwarded may interfere with this, you will at least know the source)

Mobile Advertising Metrics

Mobile advertising is measured much in the same way as Web advertising: impressions, clicks, and conversions.

On the upside, mobile audiences generally do not share devices, so you can be fairly confident that you're reaching an individual.

On the downside, your ability to use cookies and client-side scripting to validate behavior are more limited.

Mobile Advertising Networks

Most of mobile advertising is handled via networks, which saves you the bother of having to contact manufacturers and carriers individually to reach their customers.

Unfortunately, the author doesn't tell much about who some of the major networks are, what services they provide to advertisers, or anything remotely useful. Just that they exist (see Appendix 2 for more info).

Networks are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to detect, and customize content for, multiple kinds of devices and may provide access to aggregated user information.

Mobile Advertising Style Guides

Ads delivered to the mobile channel often have more rigorous requirements:

User Identification

The process of identifying a user of a is different for mobile users.

The IP address of a mobile user is likely to change each time they connect. In some instances, the IP address may change during what is considered to be a single "session"

When the device is a phone, the user ahs a unique telephone number. However, unsolicited calls are extremely annoying to users

When the message is sent via e-mail, it is common for users to have a unique address that is used only on their mobile device, and it may be the only address used on that device. However, there remains the possibility that the user may access the same mail account on various devices.

Finally, individuals update and change their mobile devices more often than they change their computers, and any device-specific information is lost when they change their device.

User Profiling

User profiling ins a controversial practice: users feel it is an invasion of their privacy and are generally uncomfortable at the prospect of being monitored, whereas advertisers feel that they can provide more appropriate and effective messages if they have a better sense of their audience.

In most instances, profiling is done by adding a user-specific value to the query string of an URL, which is a more dependable technique.

Where marketing is done to individuals who have an existing relationship with the advertiser (as Web site username)

The techniques for user profiling on the Web require users to store cookies or pass standard HTTP headers (such as referring site). Some mobile devices support this, others do not.

Worth mentioning: mobile devices are evolving to provide a richer Internet experience, and it is likely that they will adopt these conventions as they become more sophisticated - but that is a possible future, not the actual present state of things.

Appendix 1 - Acronyms

The author provides explanations of some of the common acronyms used for mobile devices. It's totally unnecessary, as he doesn't use many of them in the book, and totally pointless, as most of the technologies will change over time and the acronyms will become obsolete.

Appendix 2 - Mobile Advertising Networks

The author provides a list of mobile advertising networks. I expect these will change over time, but I'm preserving the URLs, as their sites probably provide a lot more information about mobile advertising, should I need it.

Appendix 3 - Associations

There are also a small handful of industry groups worth noting: