Mobile advertising: A dismal tale of deflated dreams


We’re living through a brave new world of mobile advertising where inventory is traded on an impression-by-impression basis. Consumers can be targeted with unerring accuracy and precision, and rich media advertisements can engage and entertain audiences with beautiful images and video.

Even those companies that never got around to making a dedicated mobile version of their Web site can now tick that particular box by using responsive – or, better still, adaptive – design on their full Web sites so they will render accurately and pleasingly on whatever device the consumer happens to be using to access them, whether that’s a small-screen smartphone or a PC with a 30-inch monitor.

All of this, you would imagine, is good news for publishers, and for the advertisers looking to reach out to their audiences accessing their content on-the-go on their mobile phones.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of publishers’ sites and see just how mobile-friendly the ads that appear on them really are.

Mobile proposition

I plumped for two UK newspapers, The Guardian and The Telegraph, both of which offer their readers a decent mobile offering, as well as strong mobile proposition for their advertisers.

I started with The Guardian, where things started well: The first ad I saw was a banner for McDonalds for the fast food restaurant’s Free Fruit Fridays’ offer. The banner itself was not particularly inspiring, but if you clicked on it, you went through to a mobile-friendly landing page with more information about the offer.

I went back to the newspaper’s homepage, refreshed it, and got another McDonalds ad, this time for its Great Deli Deal. For reasons best known to itself, however, McDonalds had not given this landing page the mobile treatment. So despite the fact you were clicking on an ad on a mobile phone, you are taken to a full-fat Web site. Not a good experience.

The two other advertisers I encountered on the Guardian site – Aerial and AXA PPP Healthcare – both fared better, with the ads taking me through in both instances to a page that looked great on my phone. AXA’s landing page also gave me the option to call the company for a quote via the phone or online. A pity the phone number shown was not hyperlinked to the click-to-call functionality though.

And I’d be lying if I said that any of the four static banners I saw really tempted me to click on them, other than for research purposes.

As for targeting, I can’t remember the last time I was in a McDonalds (though the company might argue it was targeting new customers), nor the last time I bought a packet of aerial. I don’t know if any of the ads I saw had been sold programmatically, but if so, I’m slightly surprised that the brands I saw won the bid to put their ads in front of my eyeballs.

Useful articles

The Telegraph fared better. First off, it brought up a large, square ad unit for NatWest. When I clicked on it, it took me to an editorial-looking page – though it was clearly marked as “sponsored” – with around 10 useful articles on everything from questions to ask before buying your first home to teaching your children to save money.

I then clicked around to different sections of the mobile site. On the front page of the UK News section, I was met with another large ad unit for Castletrust, promoting its fixed rate bonds. This led to another mobile-friendly landing page with well-presented information, and a form to complete which was pleasingly succinct. It just asked for my title, first name, surname, postcode, and e-mail address.

The women’s section let the side down, though, and of all the companies to do it, it was one that knows a thing or two about presenting your brand in a favourable light. The ad that greeted me there was for a company called Appella, which specialises in “brand naming and validation.”

Despite this, clicking on the ad took me through to the company’s full Web site, which didn’t look great on mobile, and was very difficult to navigate, given the site’s use of sub-menu items (contained behind the tabs across the top of the site), which obviously looked tiny on a mobile screen, even one as large as my Galaxy S5.

When I looked at the section again a little later, I was greeted by another large ad unit from Specsavers, offering me a free contact lens trial.

Given Specsavers’ prowess on mobile, social media, and smart marketing in general, I was not surprised upon clicking the ad to find myself on a Specsavers site that was optimised for mobile and had a clear call to action at the top, inviting me to “find a store or request an appointment.” This is mobile advertising done well where both the ad and what it leads to are designed with the needs of the mobile user in mind.

Later still, I looked again and was greeted by an ad for The University of Northampton – again, I question the targeting – and, quite a few times, by a house ad for The Telegraph’s mobile app, which I presume is what readers see when there’s no ad to fill the slot.

So what did I learn from my mobile advertising research?

Well, first I should say that I realise an hour spent looking at a couple of newspaper sites is hardly the most scientific experiment ever. However, the experience did teach me a couple of things.

First, that for all I hear from mobile ad tech vendors about precise targeting, I didn’t see much of this in action. In fact, some of the ads I saw, you could argue, were the exact opposite of good targeting.

And unlike the Web, where I’m constantly stalked by ads for things I have looked at on other Web sites, I didn’t see a single retargeting ad on either The Guardian or The Telegraph mobile site, which suggests the practice is still in its infancy on mobile, as opposed to desktop.

Second, the idea that modern-day mobile advertising is a triumph of rich media creativity is another myth. All I saw were unengaging, static banners.

And, third, the publisher cares more about the ad revenue than the experience. If not, why would they allow advertisers to run ads on the mobile site that click through to non-optimised mobile landing pages or sites? There is a lot of hype and excitement around mobile advertising right now.

Based on my experience, the reality is not living up to the dream.

By continuing to browse or by clicking ‘I ACCEPT,’ you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.