Local’s Next Hurdle: The Impressionable Use Fallacy

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Among the rampant cliches endemic to bad op-eds and conference sessions in the digital ad world, my favorite has to be the cringeworthy and often vapid “right person, right place, right time.”

A close second is the delusion that ads actually “delight” anyone. And third place goes to the decade-old-but-still-somehow-invoked “walk by a Starbucks” coupon scenario. Has this ever actually transpired?

Not only are these comments overused and oversimplified, but they represent an assumption that we’re all impressionable to ads at meaningful frequency. I call it the Impressionable Use Fallacy.

The theory states that no matter how good the targeting, creative, and “right person, right place,” the vast majority of our time contains urgencies that render us immune to push-based mobile ads.

“If I’m running to work or about to jump on a conference call, no matter how good the message is, it’s not going to work,” asserted Unacast’s Chris Cunningham who recently got me thinking on this concept.

It’s basically a question of how often we’re actually idle, and therefore impressionable to being rerouted from a deliberate course. And will you instead fall into the arms of an advertiser’s desired conversion?

These moments are likely scarcer than industry rhetoric would indicate. Anecdotally, they never occur for me. For most people, the list of ineligible moments includes time-sensitive things like commuting.

Verve Mobile creative director Walter Geer cites a Waze banner ad attempting to lure him to a relatively nearby Quiznos around lunchtime. This seems okay… if he weren’t a minute from his destination.

“It’s lunchtime so it’s probably the right time for this ad,” he said. “But it adds 36 minutes to my drive that is 1 minute away. That’s totally irrelevant to me and a wasted dollar for the advertiser.”

Speaking of routing and destinations, Uber recently launched a program to suggest restaurants based on your transit behavior. I love the AI implications, but the Impressionable Use Fallacy looms.

How often does Uber think we ride around casually with flexible destinations? Are we ever really inclined to change course for a suggested alternative, not to mention uber itself doesn’t allow this?

Apps meanwhile keep coming out of the woodwork, and rhetoric continues to assume an abundance of moments when we’re all bored and looking — or at least receptive — to change or make new plans.

So if most people have an extensive list of times when timely mobile ads are ineffective, what are the impressionable use moments? And how can they be found? The answer will lie in AI and real-time data.

Cunningham cites a rare example of an impressionable ad moment during an unexpected LAX layover. An ad server tapping into Delta’s flight schedules could exploit that moment, he said.

Better machine learning can likewise track the past times when we are actually swayed by advertising. That can probabilistically indicate times when we’re impressionable, and then target those moments.

It could also be about expanding temporal relevance, including local ads/offers that can be acted on later or this weekend. And of course, campaign goals can be dialed more towards brand awareness.

Either way, the issue gains importance in age of push-based personal assistant apps. The vision involves getting intelligently pinged during “micromoments” (possibly audible), instead of explicit search.

If that push-based and AI-driven world is to work, it has to deliver stuff during the times when we’re able to act on it. Until then, we’ll continue to see lots of clichéd sound bytes and wasted ad dollars.

Michael BolandMichael Boland is chief analyst and VP of content at BIA/Kelsey. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at Localogy.com