Why mobile advertising may not work

A new cell phone with a mirror: it’s a perfect analogy for why mobile advertising is being ignored.

You’ve probably heard that mobile ads will be the next big thing, with some analysts predicting the market will grow from $900 million in 2006 to $19 billion by 2011. Yet observers like Thomas Curwen, director of planning at Publicis, note that marketers are still just testing with small budgets despite the fact that 58% of Americans have used cell phones for non-voice activities such as texting or watching videos.

What gives? Why has half the United States already used cell phones for internet-type services, yet internet-type advertising remains stagnant on cell phones?

Curwen suggests it’s because brands have not yet created good content for mobile, but we think it’s the mirror. People using mobile have different modality — they are creating and receiving content that reflects themselves, not hunting for the world’s information on computer screens. Just as social media sites such as Facebook have some of the worst performance in internet advertising, social tools that fit in your pocket underperform because you use them differently. When you make or receive a Tweet or text message or phone call, you do it entirely for you.

With mobile, we’re not looking at content and ads. We’re looking in the mirror.

Tiny devices are by nature selfish instruments, and that is a wall for advertisers who exist solely to take your mindset offtrack to their own message. Sure, some GPS-served ads that point to coffee shops may work. The fluid iPhone, emerging video transmission and flexible interfaces may unlock ad doors. But the combination of small screen sizes (which hold less ad inventory) and a different mindset among mobile users (who are moving fast and creating snippets of content) mean mobile advertising has a stiff uphill battle ahead.

We’re not saying mobile ads won’t grow. We’re just saying, if half a nation’s population has used a communications medium and advertisers haven’t yet made it work, something is amiss.

One thought on “Why mobile advertising may not work

  1. Your analysis suggests that PPC search marketing may work in the mobile. My experience is that people engaging in search are seeking to satisfy themselves, i.e., me first. Targeted ads work well in search engine marketing and may very well here.

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