Mobile Is Dead, Long Live Mobile

Last month the mobile devices came very close to overtaking PCs & laptops as as the dominant access points for the internet in Australia; one would imagine that mobile will take that majority position this month or next. According to Nielsen, that switch has already taken place in the US.

I would imagine that these pieces of news will result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth, probably whilst quoting Mary Meeker’s famous gap between attention and ad spend, about why mobile isn’t getting a big enough slice of media dollars. Essentially many people will be arguing that time spent with media should be a proxy for media spend. If that’s the argument used, then it never will close the gap and rightly so.

A lot of people spend a lot of time using toilet paper, should we be advising brands to put their messages where the sun don’t shine? I don’t think so.

So, what will help dollars become more mobile?

Firstly, a recognition that the answer to every brief might not involve an ad. Reading much of the trade press the standard response to any new tech innovation which involves a screen seems to be trying to work out when it will come with pre-rolls. The digital advertising industry shot itself in the foot when it jumped on click through rates as a success metric and it’s repeating that same mistake by desperately trying to work out how many banner ads we can plaster on mobile devices.

Secondly, we need to plan around audiences and their needs and behaviours, not just which screen they happen to be facing at any particular time. By doing this we will unlock the creative potential of smartphones and tablets to act as bridges between the real world and the internet, to deliver brand utility and entertainment and, ultimately, to drive the business growth we should be worrying about more than what percentage of ad budgets happen to be spent on mobile ads.

Finally, we should look at the last two and a half decades of the web and try to learn from our mistakes. I’ve mentioned one already, but another one that strikes me is the feeling that just because something can be done it should be, particularly when it comes to data and targeting.

It seems as if the recent industry panics around EU & US regulations and legislation on cookies weren’t enough of a wake-up call based on conversations I’ve had recently: any number of new targeting solutions are being hawked about on the basis that they’re not illegal, from app sniffing to bypassing device limitations to push messages. The fact that such acts might be inappropriate, un-ethical or, more basically, simply bad PR waiting to happen, doesn’t seem to occur to some of the companies pinning their hopes, and our clients’ reputations, on such tactics.

The mobile revolution has only just begun, and it’s still far from clear what it will mean for any of us in marketing (though those wanting some good guesses would be wise to read the two Bens, Evans and Thompson). But what’s for certain is that we spend too much more time worrying about why ad dollars are or aren’t spent in any particular channel, we won’t be concentrating on how we can use these incredible new devices to bring creativity into the 21st Century.

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