Optimizing for effectiveness

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile media were playing an increasingly powerful role in consumers’ lives – and, not surprisingly, in media budgets. In the U.S., mobile media now exceeds one-third of all media spending and a 2021 GfK study shows that, among common digital technologies, smartphones are most trusted and relied on by U.S. consumers.

Throughout the day, consumers return to those small(er) smartphone screens again and again – for an average of 63 interactions every day, according to Leftronic. No other technology or platform can claim this kind of repeated exposure and 24/7 influence.

But when it comes to advertising, smartphones – and mobile devices generally – are too often playing second fiddle to “traditional” technologies: TVs and PCs. There has been little effort to truly understand mobile ads in their own context and environment. Evaluative approaches are not as robust as traditional TV techniques – and systems are often inconsistent with past testing, leaving management confused on how to interpret.

The truth is that little is actually spent on digital ad testing in general; simplistic approaches with few diagnostics provide a minimum of information or inspiration to drive stronger creative. And when it comes to mobile ads, the commitment to evaluating and refining is even weaker. Despite the impressive growth in streaming over mobile devices, they simply are not given their due.

Create special demands

We know that consumers interact with mobile devices in unique and specific ways – vastly different from a TV or PC environment. Screen size has a huge effect on how people engage with and experience advertising; small pictures and uncertain sound quality create special demands on creative. Frequently, mobile media are viewed in the context of other activities – watching TV, working or even socializing. And people bring a different mind-set to smartphone time than they do to larger screens; it is less about kicking back and more about getting things done.

Making the right impression in a mobile context requires a special, dedicated focus on what works in this sometimes unforgiving environment. A standout campaign created for bigger screens may translate poorly to handheld devices. There are good reasons to say, in fact, that smartphones should be the primary platform advertisers use for evaluating their campaigns, as they provide a more challenging creative context for ads.

Brand managers, ad creators and media planners all need to put their mobile thinking hats on – not to think “smaller” in terms of ambition but rather to make the most of every platform on its own terms.

Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Website maintenance abstract concept vector illustration.
Sales growth concept vector illustration.

Problem only grows

We know that consumers are increasingly difficult to engage in any context. Two-thirds of people say they feel “bombarded” by advertising and just three out of every 100 ads make an impression on consumers. This problem only grows when it comes to mobile platforms, because people are less receptive to ads on smartphones and tablets, as compared to TVs. GfK has found that just 11% have a favorable view of mobile ads, compared to 49% for TV ads.

With all of these challenges, how can brands capture and keep the attention of smartphone and tablet users? The good news is that GfK’s Ad Fit Optimizer has shown that well-executed ads on smartphones can be as effective as on larger screens – though the standards for success must be a little more stringent. Like all ads, simple and visually stimulating ads are most effective at engaging consumers on small screens. Emotionally engaging consumers with content that is personally relevant is critical, whether the ad is a video or display, long or short.

Recent GfK research – focusing directly on how people react to ads in mobile environments – looks at two key aspects of effectiveness: hook (the ability to grab attention) and hold (the challenge of keeping consumers engaged). Ads that score high in both of these areas, when viewed in a mobile environment, stand the greatest chance of impacting people.

Homing in on ad exposure and use in mobile settings, our study has revealed a number of guidelines for successful campaigns – what will cut through the mobile clutter and speak to overwhelmed consumers.