Data vs creativity: Mobile advertising needs both

binary dataAs confirmed by the IAB’s recent digital ad spend study, mobile is now taking up an ever greater portion of media plans today – which is great news for those of us deep in the trenches. But as marketers, and their agencies, increasingly invest in the mobile channel striking the balance between data-driven targeting and creativity remains a challenge.

When it comes to integrating mobile, marketers are increasingly being attracted by the targeting potential the channel offers to reach an individual in a certain place at a certain time on their personal device. And this is, without doubt, an exciting opportunity. But the growing emphasis on mobile-derived data, and its application within programmatic buying in particular, is potentially stifling an equal focus on creativity – as more decisions are being made on the basis of tracking data rather than consumer-centric design thinking.

The trick to effective advertising on the small screen is to ensure a healthy blend of creativity + targeting. By combining the two advertisers are likely to elicit the best possible response from a mobile audience and see the best ROI. This is no different from any other media channel.

To achieve this balance in mobile, planners need to look to use mobile ad networks and media owners who offer the right combination of accurate mobile audience targeting with a rich pallet of creative options. A few examples include: Millennial Media with its creative solutions (alongside its performance solutions); Flurry with AppCircle; Inmobi with its SmartAds; Airpush with its bespoke ad units for Android phones; and iAd with its bespoke ad units for iPhones.

They need to ensure collaboration between all the relevant media, data and creative teams within an agency when implementing mobile campaigns. And if campaigns are running across multiple territories they should consider not only the right media partners but also how the images, words and calls-to-action of the ad unit (often squeezed into the confines of a 300×50 mobile banner) will resonate with different audiences.

Also they need to start considering native advertising. The search for the right balance in mobile advertising – between the art and science – is why the industry is all abuzz at the moment about the emergence mobile native advertising.

Whether within social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Snapchat, closed or open platforms these new formats, by their very nature, are starting to offer the right targeting, in the right place, with the right format.

And they are starting to provide the power of combining creativity with targeting. We are already seeing that these formats can help clients to achieve better response – both behaviourally (in terms of interactions and clickthroughs) and attitudinally (in terms of brand recall, favourability and purchase intent).

So, what is currently inhibiting this combination of creativity and targeting. The main obstacle, I would suggest, is clients’ objectives, targets and budget parameters. Typically, most early adopters of mobile advertising are direct response performance driven.

Using the channel to achieve goals of customer acquisition/app downloads as efficiently and effectively as possible. When the campaign goals are tied to achieving a specific Cost per Install/Download then often the cost for added creativity is too high to pay. Simple banners distributed through blind or incentivised ad networks suffice to achieve campaign goals.

It will not be until we see a greater shift to mobile from ‘traditional’, big brand advertisers, for whom campaign objectives typically have some element of brand building, or perception shifting, within them that the opportunities to combine creativity and targeting within mobile will truly come to the fore. As advertisers, whose marketing communications still centre around the 30 second TV spot, start to consider the mobile channel seriously we will likely see more stand out, targeted campaign creative.

And as they realise that more and more video consumption is happening through the smartphone and tablets screens (see Ooyala’s 4Q 2013 Global Video Index for evidence) – then we should see a greater adoption of targeted, mobile video advertising. This might be further encouraged by the likes of Drawbridge, who recently announced that they will support video in their cross-device ad targeting.

But these advertisers will need more evidence of the branding benefits of mobile ads alongside their other channels. Not enough of which currently exists. More effectiveness insight, like that provided by Millward Brown’s AdReaction 2014 study, is needed to convince them to invest in the channel.  Once this is in place, and the positive reaction of mobile audiences is beautifully crafted and when mobile advertising can be measured, the media will truly be embraced to its full potential.

Julian Smith is head of strategy and innovation at Fetch