Mobilegeddon: A World Taken Over by Mobile Devices

Waterproof, dustproof, shockproof mobile phone with touchscreen display
Waterproof, dustproof, shockproof mobile phone with touchscreen display

By Ryan McConville, COO at Kargo

You may not realize it, but you are a cyborg.

At least according to Dilbert comic Scott Adams. If you are one of the average Americans who checks their phone 220 times a day, you are already completely reliant on your mobile "exo-brain"--an internet connected external hard drive that augments your knowledge base and transforms what it means for you to be human in the 21st century: 24/7 access to all the world's information, near limitless memory, instant communication across time and space, and better navigation than even the most directionally savvy among us could muster on his own (and of course the ability to send Snaps!).

And that's just the beginning. Smart watches, smart contact lenses, smart nano-robots are all a present and growing reality. Man is ever melding further with machine.

There is no question that the world we live in is changing radically. The question for our industry? Is our marketing changing fast enough to keep up? Overall, I would say no.

Our industry remains focused on the 30-second TV spot. It worked so well for so long, it's not hard to imagine why we're having trouble letting go. But jamming this legacy format onto a forward-looking medium like mobile not only doesn't work well, but actually turns off consumers. Consider that the ad blocking industry was first born because consumers didn't want to see 30-second pre-roll before 2-minute videos. Yet this type of behavior continues. We talk about "responsive design," but what could be more disrespectful to the uniqueness of mobile than the idea that you can shrink down a digital banner and run it on a smaller screen just as effectively?

These practices aren't going to cut it in the mobile world. As an industry we need to ask ourselves three important questions: what is a mobile-first format that works on these devices? Where should we be running these ads? And finally, how should mobile ads be bought and sold, especially in light of the growth of efficiency tools like programmatic? Let's look at each individually:

1. What formats work best for mobile?
Thanks to smartphones, the human attention span today is about eight seconds (that's a second shorter than the average attention span of a goldfish). We know that the average mobile user session is 60 seconds. So a 30-second spot takes up 50% of a consumer's time on mobile. To risk stating the obvious, that's not good. Ads need to be shorter and punchier. They need to work faster and conform to the format of the phone. New native formats and vertical videos are a step in the right direction.

2. Where should we run these formats?
People use their phones in all sorts of ways, but not every one of them is appropriate for marketing. On average millennials spend 95 minutes texting, 49 minutes responding to emails, 39 minutes watching videos, 38 minutes checking Facebook each day... but that doesn't mean that you should drop your marketing message into each of these places.

Recently we conducted an internal research study to examine how scroll velocity differs between a social feed like Facebook and a content-rich property like The New York Times, for example. We gave participants 15 seconds to interact with each type of site the way they normally would, and the findings were quite interesting: users scrolled through a news feed at 230 pixels per second, passing an average of three ads, while the same users scrolled at about 50 pixels per second when reading editorial content. This means that time spent with your ad is only about 1.5 seconds in a social feed, compared to 5 seconds when paired with content.

What this example illustrates is that we need to dig deeper into how consumers actually use different platforms in order to understand how that behavior influences the effectiveness of our marketing.

3. How should we buy (or sell) these ads, especially in light of the growth of programmatic?
Publishers today have to account not just for an almost endless number of screens--TV, desktop, tablet, mobile (and now watch!)-but also for different platforms on those screens - like Snapchat Discover, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News... Each of these environments has unique ad tech piping and creative formats, making it increasingly difficult to activate a consistent brand campaign across the entire ecosystem. We need new programmatic tools to support ad creation and deployment across multiple platforms--what we think of as Programmatic 2.0.

Until we think more deeply about (1) what type of ads to run on mobile devices and platforms, (2) where best to run them, and (3) how best to buy and sell them, "mobilegeddon" will continue to be more of a challenge than an opportunity.