Do Mobile Ads Work?

The Top 7 Reasons Why Mobile Ads Don’t Work

Dartmouth study sheds light on mobile vs. Web By Christopher Heine

  • October 17, 2013, 2:38 PM EDT
Photo: Getty Images

Dartmouth researcher’s study sheds light on the mobile Web and app users who don’t click on ads. On a high level from the study, here are the top seven reasons they steer clear of the ads on smartphones and tablets (with some Adweek commentary thrown in).

1. The screen is too small, per 72 percent of survey participants. Mobile marketers everywhere will want to bang their heads against the wall over that one. And for tablet marketers, the researcher believes most respondents were thinking of their smartphone usage more so than their time on an iPad or Nexus 7.

2. People are just too busy for ads, according to 70 percent surveyed. You mean on-the-go consumers don’t have time to kill? No shocker here, either—outside maybe actually not being No. 1.

3. After tapping an ad and going to the landing page, 69 percent of respondents hate it that they cannot easily return to the content they were reading or watching. This interfacing problem can probably be successfully addressed by technologists, can’t it?

4. Too hard to get online with cell phones, said 60 percent. There’s a 3G joke in here somewhere.

5. Per 54 percent, it’s too frustrating when mobile consumption is interrupted. From TV to T-Mobile, some things never change.

6. Ads take too long to load, stated 53 percent. Once again, this one seems fixable long-term on a technological level and can probably be creatively circumvented in the meantime.

7. Consumers are just not in the mood for ads, said 42 percent. Fantastic marketing content could change this attitude, couldn’t it?

At the same time, Praveen Kopalle, the Dartmouth marketing professor who put together the study, came to a bevy of other mobile-versus-Web-consumption findings. Many of them suggest that while mobile marketers have more opportunities to craftily target ads, they better hit on-the-go consumers’ sweet spots because those folks won’t be paying attention for very long.

The researcher discovered that mobile consumers are on their smartphones/tablets eight times a day for 15 minutes per viewing session. By comparison, Kopalle found, desktop and laptop users sit down with their computers a couple times a day but spend two hours during each session.

“People are doing other things while on their mobile devices,” he explained. “So the [duration of undivided attention] for mobile is broken up in many pieces.”

But, the professor said, duration of undivided attention (DUA) is 47.5 percent higher on mobile devices compared to computers. The great DUA for mobile, though, doesn’t always translate well for ads.

For instance, when mobile users are performing information-seeking tasks such as searching Yelp or Google for local businesses, four out of 10 survey participants said ads do not register with them. “I think it’s a profound finding,” remarked Anindya Datta, CEO of app marketer Mobilewalla.

Datta added, “The crucial differences in behavior show that ad campaigns must be planned in a new way.  What is critical is wide audience coverage such as that available through demographic targeting rather than narrower intender-based techniques.”

And some good news for mobile from Dartmouth’s findings. Smartphone and tablet users are heavily immersed in what they are doing, so their engagement is unusually high compared to computers.

Per Kopalle’s research, 67 percent of consumers find mobile devices more immersive than computers, while 63 percent find mobile content, in particular, more immersive than computer content. So once again, it likely stands to reason that superb ads can work with the mobile consumer.

Lastly, to come to his findings, Kopalle of Dartmouth surveyed 200 Americans. They skewed slightly female with a median age of 30 and an average annual income of $52,500. Thirty-seven percent held college degrees, while 39 percent had some higher education.

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