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Product functionality drives mobile-ad effectiveness: report

MatchAd

A Match.com ad that was studied in the research

Marketers have the opportunity to increase the effectiveness of their mobile display ads by focusing on the functional aspects of the products they are advertising, a new academic research report concludes. 

Consumers react best to mobile display ads that highlight products serving a useful purpose and that require careful consideration prior to purchase, such as a washing machine or a car, according to a study called “Which Products Are Best Suited to Mobile Advertising? A Field Study of Mobile Display Advertising Effects on Consumer Attitudes and Intentions” from Columbia Business School. The report found that mobile display ads for pleasure-oriented items such as movie tickets or expensive watches had almost no effect on consumer attitudes or purchase decisions. 

“Many marketers are still using a 'spray and pray' approach to digital ads," said Miklos Sarvary, co-director of the Media Program at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. "In other words, they're just putting mobile ads out there and hoping that they work. Limitations in tracking smartphone ads have always made it difficult for marketers to track and optimize their return on investment, but we’ve unlocked a part of that mystery now, which means they’ll know how to best to spend their dollars.”

The researchers studied consumer responses to 54 different mobile display ads across a range of industries. The report concluded that such ads — which themselves convey very little information due to space constraints — seem to function best as reminders about products consumers may have already been considering. 

Impact on attitudes
Overall, the research found that only a third of the campaigns studied had significant positive impact on consumers’ attitudes toward or intentions around purchasing the advertised product, compared with the attitudes and intentions of a control group that did not see the ads. Only 16.7% of the campaigns had significant positive effects on both attitude and intention, and another 16.7% had a significant positive effect on one but not the other.

Among those campaigns with a significant positive impact on attitude, the group of consumers who saw the ads had had an attitude rating that was 17.67% higher than the control group’s. Similarly, among those campaigns that drove significant positive increases around intention, the group that saw the ads had on average 21.11% higher intent to purchase than the control group. 

Conversely, the report found that 66.7% of campaigns had no impact or significant negative effects on both attitude and intention. 

“Clearly, finding that two-thirds of the MDA [mobile display ad] campaigns in our dataset did not achieve positive treatment effects is concerning,” the report said. 

In total, 19,695 (49.3%) participants were exposed to the mobile display ads, and 20,251 (50.7%) participants were in the control group that did not see the ads across the 54 campaigns. The report analyzed ad campaigns over a three-year period from 2007 to 2010. 

Repositioning for mobile
Although the report found the best results occurred with products that were more functional and had greater personal significance for consumers, it concluded that less utilitarian products and few consequences for shoppers could be marketed differently to improve results. This could be done by featuring product attributes that are more functional and require more thought and considering, the report concluded.

For example, a mobile display ad for a luxury car might be more effective if it emphasizes safety over sportiness. 

Marketers should also consider using mobile display ad campaigns as complements to other advertising campaigns, the report said. This ensures that consumers can recall relevant product information when reminded of products by mobile ads.

“The mobile ad’s strength," Mr. Sarvary said, "Is not adding new data, but reminding you of what you already know and making you think about the product again.” 

Final Take
Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Marketer, New York
 

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Related content: Advertising, Columbia Business School, mobile display ads, Mikros Sarvary

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