Mobile. So Many Great Uses. Shame Advertising Isn’t One

Businessman using mobile phone wearing carton box on head

B&T’s favourite contrarian Robert Strohfeldt is back and this time he’s got mobile advertising in his sights…

Robert Strohfeldt
Posted by Robert Strohfeldt

Firstly, we had the “digital revolution”. The shift online of business and communications. It started with desk top computers, with a select few using a laptop. Wasn’t that long ago and the vast majority of people travelling on business didn’t have to pull out their laptops at an airport check in. They were confined to the most senior executives and higher net worth individuals. But thanks to capitalism and competition, the price dropped significantly and the laptop was a “mass market item”. (Remember car phones? At around $5000 a pop, they were the status symbol of an elite few).

Until the laptop became the norm, the wonderful new world of the internet could only be accessed when you were tied to a desk (or table, or where ever it would sit). You couldn’t take it with you, but internet cafes were abundant and although your computer wasn’t mobile, the internet was – jump on a computer anywhere and you were away.

Then along came Blackberry, synonymous with the “in crowd”. The smart phone had arrived, but like the early days of the laptop, only for a select few. But capitalism and competition came to the rescue again, ensuring that smart phones become accessible to the masses. (They are just called mobile phones now) There are more mobile phones in India than public toilets. Third world countries are lacking in many of the basics we in the west take for granted, but mobile phones are not one of them.

Marketers and advertisers are besotted by numbers – bigger is better. CPM is still one of the most important comparative numbers used when selected media, new or old. But the type and quality of M has changed dramatically from the days of traditional media.

A basic from the days of traditional media that is frequently forgotten today – understand how your target “consumes” each media option and the device it is delivered on and ensure your advertising message is empathetic to this. e.g. Radio – theatre of the mind. If you want to tell a story, create mental pictures with sight and sound. Whether it is a small portable or bedside radio, or a large sound system, the end result is the same – mental images. (Not just whack the sound track of your TV ad on air. Create ads that ustilise the medium’s strength).

Landlines once were the only option and there were billions of the buggers worldwide. But ultimately, what did it give in terms of “advertising”? Telemarketing. What a novel, effective and highly regarded approach to mass communications. (Yes, it does have very effective, but highly specific uses).

A mobile is a convenience item. They over taken laptops for social media and many use their smart phones to read newspaper and magazines, do banking and watch movies, even TV shows. But you wouldn’t invite your friends around to a grand final BBQ (or any major sporting or cultural event) to watch it on your phone. That is why big screen TVs (Remember the 50 inch sets that cost $5000 and are now less than $1000? Bloody capitalism spoiling things again) are sold in such large numbers. Even the crappiest looking house has a big screen TV. Some 86% of video today is still watched on television sets.

Back to convenience. It was at first a marvel when a mobile phone could not only make telephone calls, but take pictures and then video. Now it has GPS, social media access, tracks how far you walk, how many calories you consume, plane boarding pass, credit card, electronic ticket entry – bloody hell, one of the only few things a smart phone won’t do today is chill champagne, but that is probably being worked on in an R&D department somewhere. (An electronic version of the Swiss Army Knife).

Very few people use all their smart phone’s potential. There are just so many things they can do. But the umbrella reason for their use falls under convenience.

Even the largest smart phones have relatively pissy little screens. They are used to watch movies etc. but only because a small screen is better than no screen at all.

So considering how and why a person uses their mobiles, they are not conducive to advertising as we traditionally know it. (And there is the little problem of the estimated 500 million or so ad blockers that have been downloaded worldwide). Every now and again I read motherhood type statements telling us how we can utilise mobile for content and that somehow serves as advertising:

It’s something that publishers should be taking note of: the internet, and especially smartphones, present a unique landscape to serve highly personalised advertising to audiences. There are opportunities to develop highly relevant content and messaging, which is less intrusive and offers value to audiences.

This is where the likes of native content, sponsored content, influencer marketing and content partnerships come to the fore. Despite adblockers, there will always be room for strong content. Provided it adds value, we are increasingly seeing that people don’t particularly care if it is sponsored or not.

Here we go with the fixation on numbers again. HUGE potential – all you have to do is develop highly relevant content and messaging which is less intrusive and offers value to audiences.

Shit, why didn’t I see that? Did you know that all you need to do to win an Olympic gold in the 100 meters’ sprint is train very hard and run faster than your competitors? Bloody hell, so simple, what have I been doing all this time?

They often then ramble on about Native Advertising (that is where you can’t come up with a decent creative idea and have to deceive your audience. The name “advertorial” still applies to this crap.)

This is a “one size fits all approach”. (A universal problem in the world of online advertising). Many of you would have heard of The Furrow, by John Deere farm machinery, which first started in 1895 and is still running. It is the world’s oldest content marketing. A great idea, but it is a very specific target. Farmers tend not to live in city blocks and are quite isolated. Farming, which may come as a surprise to the inner-city Greenies, is technical and scientific. (That is why so many universities have Agricultural Science faculties.) They take care of their land and animals because they are their livelihood. They are hungry for information in what comparatively, has always been a rapidly changing industry. And The Furrow gave them this. But this type of “content” strategy is one very few products and brands can duplicate – “Chips in the 21st Century”, may work for computers, but a dubious content approach for potato or corn chips.

We have moved from art lead advertising in mass communications, to targeted individual messages. The smartphone is ideal for the latter, but with one small problem. Consumers are inundated with “targeted” messages (turn off your junk filter for just one day and see how many unsolicited emails you receive). There are a handful of brands/products from which consumers are happy to receive messages – though many screw this up as CRM programmes are run by software, with little or no human input. Another “one size fits all approach”. You can easily turn from being welcomed information to a pest, by sending out too many offers or messages. “Systemise the ordinary, personalise the extraordinary” should be the guiding principal.

According to Professor Mark Ritson, the average consumer encounters around 13,000 brands in an “average year”. Now I am not sure how exact that number is or how large the variance. But suffice to say there are a shit load of brands trying to be in the handful that make the cut. Direct Marketing has always been a numbers game – a low response rate is compensated by the large number of communication pieces sent out.

Consumers are inundated with “content”, so cutting through the thousands of brand and product messages to joining the handful that are welcomed is no easy task. DM, like all other communication disciplines, don’t operate in a vacuum. They must work together (integrated communications really took off in the 80s) – the better known and regarded, the greater the chance of getting through. But how to reach a position of high regard and trust? Therefore, marketing developed the 4Ps approach. (There are some who now say there are more than 4Ps, but the additional Ps all come under either Product, Price, Place (distribution) and Promotion e.g. we now have People – people have always been part of the Product.)

As well as EDM, mobiles are used to great effect for what was once termed classifieds. Now part of what is collectively called in-bound i.e. people come to you, rather than you send out messages to them. But again, the same issue arises – how to develop the reputation and top of mind that drive consumers to you? Jobs, cars and real estate were once the mainstay of newspaper classifieds, the old “Rivers of Gold”?

If someone is after say a used BMW, or possibly even several accepted brands, how did they come to know of and desire these brands in the first place? – certainly not by the traditional form of advertising placed on a smart phone. They probably have read independent reviews online with their phone. Independent being the key word. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Mazda is going to say Mazdas are great – even if you do try and deceive them into thinking the review is independent, or “Native”. You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time – you know how it goes. Eventually you get caught and labelled a bull shitter. Short term gain for long term damage.

So, although it is estimated there are more than 2 billion smart phones in use around the world, there are very specific and limited types of commercial communications that are effective on them.

Marketing and advertising is way more complex than it was PI (pre-internet), with a large and bewildering number of permutations and combinations of platforms to consider and use. (And what is ideal one year, will more than likely be outdated the next).

It is too easy to get lost in the volumes of data available – “Now Mrs Smith buys strawberry jam on the second Tuesday of every month. She is 38 years old, has 3 children aged between 10 and 14, loves gardening, has a cat with mange, a dog who licks his genitals in front of guests, drives a 3 year- old Toyota Corolla (automatic), has sex with her husband twice a week but fantasises about having it with Hugh Jackman every day, has a two- year- old Apple Laptop, worries about global warming but is also concerned about the rising costs of electricity and health insurance. Back to the strawberry jam. How do we get her to consider our brand in the 2.5 seconds she stands in front of the jam section of the supermarket on that second Tuesday of each month?” “Buggered if I know, but I reckon she would buy tickets to Hugh Jackman’s up- coming stage show”. Cross selling, don’t you just love it?

When it comes to data, like most things in life, quality tops quantity.

Mobile does have a role to play in marketing communications. But the art is understanding how it is used and then how and where can it be used in the mix. And this is dependent upon the product or service at play. Not a one size fits all approach.