Intrusive mobile advertising won't work, say experts

Mobile phones

Does anyone really want to get advertising on their mobile phones? The mobile industry certainly hopes so, and is banking on ads as a big source of revenue in the years to come. Trouble is, mobiles are such personal devices, that if advertising is done badly, it’ll just be seen as intrusive spam.

It’s a dilemma, and one that was discussed today at the MEX conference in London. And the conclusion? Us consumers will be happy to have adverts on our phones, as long as they’re relevant to us, don’t get in the way of whatever content or application we’re using, and if they allow operators to provide other cool stuff for free.

Jim Souders from Action Engine talked about some focus groups the company has run to investigate consumer attitudes, and pointed out that people are comfortable with the idea of watching TV shows or browsing websites for free because they come with adverts, so why should mobile be any different.

However, he also said that this doesn’t just mean streaming TV ads to your phone, or having web-style pop-ups appear when you’re using a mobile application. Instead, they’ve got to be optimised for the strengths and weaknesses of mobile – whether they’re text messages, banner adverts, video ads or paid-for search results.

“For example, for a video advertisement, the optimum length is 7-10 seconds,” said Souders. “People won’t be watching 30-minute shows on their mobile, they’re watching shows or clips in minutes, so 30-second commercials won’t work.”

Of course, there’s plenty of other problems for the industry to solve before us punters will accept mobile ads. For starters, we don’t want to pay for them, which includes data charges to download or access advertising content.

Reassuringly, everyone involved in the MEX debate seemed to agree that mobile users won’t put up with spam or poorly-targeted advertising. However, with no mobile operators or advertising agencies taking part in this particular debate, it still remains to be seen if these noble sentiments will translate into actions.

Stuart Dredge
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  • Mobile phones are highly personal. It makes it more difficult to use as promotion tool (invading my personal space), but much more effective. This is why the price for mobile ads will be much higher but the total numbers will be lower. Targetize mobile search tools are an excellent example of mobile advertisement done right.

  • Operators are looking at ways to patch the universal decline in voice revenues with an uptake in the use of mobile data. The reality is that this uptake is slow as data (non-SMS content) has thus far fallen short of initial expectations. Ad-funded content, ie giving users free content or applications in return for accepting advertising is a tried and tested model which will work…we can’t resist free stuff. Those that don’t want to see adverts on their phone in return for a free application or service should have the option of paying a subscription instead. After all, this is how BBC/SKY/ITV works (more or less)

  • As far as I know, 3 users already get some advertising on their phones – it’s not very personalised but neither is it particularly intrusive. My guess is that’s how these things will begin to shape up.

  • I think ads on mobile can and will work assuming there’s something in it for the consumer like content, reduced subscription fees and so forth. What is maybe more important is the relevancy, content value and entertainment value of the ads to the consumer. I believe a broadcast model could struggle in this space because of lack of relevancy. It seems when you have a medium as personal as mobile, direct targeting is not only possible, but preferable.

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