What Trends in Mobile Advertising Mean for the Industry

Giant cell phone sculpture outside of a building

Daryl Mitchell / Flick / CC BY 2.0

Cell phones are as much a part of our everyday lives as televisions were thirty years ago, and radios thirty years before that. We don't go anywhere without them. We can use them to buy products, connect with friends, check the news, the weather, play games, and so much more.

Mobile Ads Were Slow to Start, Quick to Catch Up

Now, when the Internet first started to take hold of the mass-market consumer, it changed advertising in a big way. Unlike most forms of advertising in the past, the Internet offered instant gratification and fulfillment. Click a banner, go to a website, buy your product. PayPal even made the whole process seamless.

With mobile advertising, just like the Internet, the uptake was slow. And the ads were more intrusive than effective. Quite often, creatives in ad agencies had no idea what to do with those phone message ads. But times are once again changing. The impact of ads on cell phones could be as big as the impact that the Internet had on newspapers and magazines, despite the brave front they are putting up.

The Impact of Mobility on Advertising

Cell phones travel with you. And with most phones having GPS (global positioning system) technology, your phone can be served with geographically relevant ads. All of a sudden, you're getting lunch deals and coupons from a restaurant that's 30 seconds away. You could even be sent those ads 15 minutes before lunch. Now that is not just targeted advertising, it's coming from a sharp-shooter. Here are just a few of the places that advertising can impact you, immediately, via your cell phone:

  • In the aisles of the grocery store
  • Outside of a movie theater
  • At the food court of a mall
  • In a book or music store
  • At a car dealership
  • At the DMV or any other government office
  • A toy store (especially around the holidays)

To keep up, traditional advertising methods are going to have to stay on top of trends like that. You may see more and more ads that contain QR barcodes (a barcode that consists of squares instead of vertical lines). An ad in a magazine could contain a code that, when scanned, will send a relevant, local ad to your phone. It could be the directions to a local dealership if the ad is for a new car or a coupon for a sandwich at a local deli.

Instant Purchasing Power Makes All the Difference

There's also instant purchasing power to take into consideration. Just like the Internet, mobile advertising can give you the power to see and buy, on the spot. A great example of this recently emerged using QR codes on bus-shelter ads for the fashion chain H&M. In it, ads showed actual products that could be purchased, with a QR code next to the outfit. Taking a shot of that code led the user to a store on their cell phone that asked for size and color and took them straight to the checkout.

The Perfect Partnership of Technology and Advertising

A recent TV ad also showed a guy changing his train ticket via his phone, instantly, to sit next to his future wife on the train. Great, but imagine the possibilities. The technology could detect where you are at any given time and deliver discount tickets to you, be they for rock concerts or vacations.

You may have just been walking past that concert hall, but your phone is linked to you and your likes and dislikes. Now, advertisers can marketers can tap into your personal life, find out what music you have listed on your Facebook page, link it to the city you're in, your current location, and get you a ticket to a show starting on one hour. It's not fiction, it's all quite possible.

How Mobile Advertising Is Changing the Future

Will the industry have to change the way they look at them? Well, yes, and no. The big Superbowl spots of the past few decades will still have their place. Branding is branding, and a captive audience of that scale is never going to be passed up. But what they feature could very well change.

Ads that interact with cell phones could shift the conversation away from a pure branding exercise to one that has a trackable ROI (return on investment). Imagine a $2 million beer commercial that asks everyone to take a snapshot of the screen and, in return, gets a free beer credited to their phone; one that can be used at a liquor store or sports bar. Now that would have a serious impact on the advertising community.

The Bottom Line for Mobile Ads Is Adapt or Die

Traditional advertising always has to make this call. And when money is calling the shots, adaptation is essential. Mobile phones in places like Japan are everything to people. A regular TV spot that doesn't include mobile phone promotions or linkage will take a back seat to ads that incorporate the lifeline of every consumer. The mobile phone is king. The industry will bow down to it, or fall behind quickly.