How to Create an Engaging Mobile Ads Strategy in 2020

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Ninety-six percent of Americans own a cell phone, and each spends an average of 5.4 hours a day on it. Naturally, mobile has become one of the best platforms to reach large audiences and promote brands and products. The problem, however, is that the space has become extremely saturated and competitive, and users have become fatigued by repetitive, obvious marketing ploys.

In fact, the conversion rate for mobile adverts placed with Google Ads is only 3.48% on their search network and 0.72% on their display network. Meanwhile, the median clickthrough rate for ads on Google Display Network has decreased 32% since the last quarter and is 41% lower than this time last year. These figures indicate that audiences just aren’t receptive to mobile ads despite companies’ attempts to target ad messaging to specific groups.

Mobile advertising is not going to go away — the industry is expected to surpass $240 billion by 2022. However, companies need to take a dramatically new approach to see positive returns on their investment. Here’s how to stand out from the crowd and secure better conversions with mobile ads.

Show, don’t tell

Users are both overwhelmed and underwhelmed with ads. Recent research shows that depending on the ad budget and audience size, consumers can start experiencing ad fatigue only three days after a campaign launches. That’s an alarmingly short timeframe to lose consumer interest and potentially stunt further interaction with the brand.

It goes without saying that engagement is essential to any ad strategy, especially on mobile screens, where it’s easier for users to passively scroll past an ad. That’s why 70% of all video ads are reported to be 20 seconds or shorter to accommodate users’ short attention span, but companies still have to go further than simply condensing their content.

The rise of TikTok has proven that video is now king in the mobile space, and companies are getting more creative with how they make videos. Animations and impressive visual editing are empowering brands to represent themselves in distinctive ways, but they have to be mindful of the broader user experience.

  • Large videos or media can often take too long to load or freeze the page as users continue navigating.

  • Flashy techniques shouldn’t come at the expense of a smooth user journey.

  • Aim to upload MP4, MOV, or GIF files, no larger than 4GB, and with a minimum resolution of 600 px.

  • Cropping the ratios of a video can also help ensure fast loading speed and high-quality video play.

That said, interactive features are no longer a cool addition; they’re necessary to actively draw today’s mobile users into the ad experience. Touchpoints like swipeable images, ‘click to learn more,’ and playable trials are ways to bridge the gap between a product or service and a real-life user. Not only do these clickable elements make an ad less intrusive, they also make the advert a shared event, rather than a brand one-sidedly shouting at potential customers. For example, Michael Kors’ Snapchat ads allowed browsers to apply a filter where they could virtually sample a new range of sunglasses. The lens was viewed 104 million times, led to an 18% increase in ad awareness, and a 6% lift in purchase intent.

Gamification can be just as powerful. Take the US burrito chain Chipotle’s ad, where users were asked to match and remember food ingredients, and were given buy-one-get-one-free food vouchers for correct pairings. By establishing a ‘play-and-reward’ structure, the ad feels less like marketing and more like a fun activity for mobile users. Even if people don’t convert immediately after playing an ad, they’ve had a constructive experience with the brand.

Consider interactive content like quizzes to help harness this type of gamification, which is why 82% of people engage when exposed to them. Compared to people passively scrolling past ads on mobile, quizzes speak to users’ curiosity about themselves. In turn, the average quiz has a 33.6% lead capture rate, meaning one-third of the people who take a quiz could become customers.

Craft a cohesive story

Mobile advertising is becoming a consumer-led movement, and your ad is a dialogue, not a monologue. Brands should be having a back-and-forth with audiences, and the final call-to-action (CTA) should be the invitation to keep talking. Like any chat, users need to be titillated, meaning they want an incentive to a) participate in the chat and b) commit to further communication with the brand. A good way to strike up conversation is interactive content.

Interactive content like quizzes and personality tests is great because it establishes a question-and-answer structure with audiences. It also turns the advertising proposition on its head when, rather than shouting at mobile users, it offers people the chance to learn something about themselves or a topic. It’s basically saying: “Hey, tell me about yourself.” You can integrate ads directly into the quiz — or use a built-in lead generation form to convert quiz takers.

The story has to be specifically tailored for mobile, though. Don’t be tempted to repurpose ads from desktop, as a large portion of mobile users will be active on multiple platforms, and will get swiftly fatigued by the same story. Facebook’s Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) is useful to create multiple versions of an ad and can home in on target audiences based on gender, age, socioeconomic status, and location. Brands can therefore curate a story for different devices and effectively say to users, “This story is relevant to you and what you’re doing, right now.” It helps contextualize the narrative, which makes it more appealing.

One key note — pay especially close attention to where your CTA takes users. Lesser-known brands may want to link to third-party apps or sites where their product is hosted, as it will be a space that users already recognize and trust. For example, a clothing company could connect to Amazon rather than its homepage, which will mostly likely reduce the chances of cart abandonment. Alternatively, call-only ads have seen success by asking users to phone for immediate support, which can build a customer relationship from the earliest possible stage.

User testing is a smart way to confirm that an ad story is truly compelling. Companies can gather target users and ask them to rate the clarity of the ad, define what the message is, and provide insights around how willing they would be to click the CTA. Such qualitative feedback is extremely impactful to tell stories in the right manner.

Put users in control

Mobile users are savvy — they’re more familiar with traditional marketing tactics, which means they’re also more immune to them. Nowadays, brands can overcome this by putting users back in the driving seat and offering products or services that genuinely offer value instead of just promoting another commodity.

Similar to contextualizing a story, ad content should be oriented around where and when people use their phones. On public transport, in shops, on vacation, at a sports game: These are common scenarios for mobile use, and knowing this lets brands customize messaging accordingly. For example, Snickers partnered with Spotify to release an ad that was triggered when users listened to songs outside of their normal genres. The copy read, “You’re not you when you’re hungry — and neither is your music taste.” By recognizing that many people listen to music on mobile and naturally tying that behavior to their product, Snickers saw 78,861 total clicks, 1,710,564 unique reach, and 6,805,995 overall impressions.

It’s worth mentioning that for this integrated ad strategy to work, users have to be given a choice to dismiss the ad. Users want to dictate what appears on their screens and decide for themselves when to respond. Truly having a user-centric approach means having a clear ‘close’ option and allowing people to dismiss an ad. The responsibility is on companies to reassure mobile users that their time and interest is well spent on their brand, and if they can’t convince them so, users expect to resume browsing without that ad. Including a close box not only reduces any negative friction with customers, it helps keep brands honest in their ad mission and value offering.

Likewise, brands have to recognize that more mobile users are opting out of digital marketing, thus blocking advertisers from accessing their online behavior. Moving forward, in this era of the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, you have to give users back control of their data, while still gathering information to best understand your audiences.

Again, quizzes are helpful because they allow you to collect insights through responses. They reverse the ad process and put users in control by letting them choose to opt-in and engage with the quiz. In return, users receive insights about their personality or how much they know. Adding an in-quiz lead form with a compelling CTA (e.g. ‘We’ll send you your own detailed quiz report’) will get you authentic personal information — more than just an IP address, device ID, or general demographic details. And best of all, it’s also garnered in a way that is ethical, transparent, and restores users’ autonomy.

The ongoing remote revolution is fueling mobile and internet use, and the advertising industry has to find ways to prevent user indifference to ads. Particularly as consumer sentiment shifts and people are more conscious about ethical purchases, marketing techniques equally need a principled focus — meaning transparent and mutually-beneficial ads.

Gone are the times of aggressive and misleading ads; in 2020, brands need to show, not tell, have a cohesive story, and put users in control if they want to see real traction.

Boris Pfeiffer is founder and CEO of Riddle.