Make ’em watch! How to make money with mobile ads.


I was reading an article in AdAge this morning about how mobile is overtaking TV in terms of the amount of time spent on each.

The article reviewed this trend, and specifically examined the disconnect between the amount of time spent and the amount of revenue generated on mobile.

What should otherwise be a boon for mobile advertisers, is actually something of a conundrum, as marketers have yet to figure out how to translate the time (spent on mobile) into revenue.

Since mobile has less real estate to work with, embedding ads that are visible and compelling is a challenge.

Moreover, convincing advertisers to switch from TV to mobile, in the absence of empirical support for that reallocation is a hard sell.

But all is not lost.

If mobile advertisers are looking for ways to increase click-through rates (I know click-through rates aren’t really for mobile – bear with me), there is a fool proof strategy they can employ.

Force users to watch their ads.

That’s right, I said force.

Sure, no one asked me my opinion, but I’m going to give it anyway.

Advertisers need to use more video on mobile and make people watch.

And do away with static ads altogether.


I’ll tell ya.

Now gather round…

I’ve found that the most effective ads on mobile are video ads.

And the most effective video ads are the ones which don’t give you the option of canceling or closing them until they’re done.

The next most effective are those that give you a time-delayed option, before revealing your opt-out option (the little “x” on the screen).

Efficacy in Stephen’s world is defined by users viewing (and not automatically canceling) an ad in its entirety.

YouTube uses these “mandatory watch” and “time-delayed skip” options effectively in their videos, and mobile advertisers would be well advised to model their behavior.

In addition, mobile advertisers need to adopt a “takeover” mentality.

If they’re going to serve an ad, serve it.

Don’t be shy about taking over the user’s screen.

While most would agree that users don’t want ads and pop ups, few would argue that ads and pop ups are an interruption that people have come to tolerate and accept.

Take me for instance.

I play solitaire on my iPhone all the time.

It’s a free version, so between every hand, there’s an ad.

Most are simple overlays or pop ups, advertising other games or apps, that I close almost reflexively.

But increasingly, the ads being served are videos from car makers, insurance carriers, and the like.

And they employ both mandatory and time delayed opt-out watch options.

Generally, ads are no longer than fifteen seconds (which seems like an eternity when I’m trying to get to my next hand) seem to offend me the least.

I find myself sitting patiently through them until either (a) they’re done or (b) that little black “x” appears on the screen.

Sometimes, I’ll watch until the “x”‘appears.

At others, if its engaging, I’ll watch all the way to the end.

And every so often (and this is rare) I’ll actually respond to the call to action or follow the link at the end.

I’m sure I’m like most people.

If the content is good, I’ll watch, read or listen to an ad without objection.

If its crap, I’ll skip it.

The issue (for me) is both form and substance.

So (in my opinion) the objective for marketers trying to drive engagement and conversions with mobile ads is twofold: (1) make interesting engaging ads, preferably video, and (2) force people to watch by adding time delayed (or no) opt-out options.

Now we could go deeper down the rabbit hole (as AdAge does) to explore the differences between serving ads in apps versus ads in mobile web, but that’s for the Master Class.

Suffice it to say, applying desktop rules of engagement for mobile ads is a losing strategy, and brands would do well to rethink how they’re targeting mobile users.

Or simply hire me.

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Filed under mobile, mobile ads

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