American Marketer


Where is the innovation in mobile advertising?

July 30, 2014

Declan Carney is cofounder/chairman of BlueLink Marketing Declan Carney is cofounder/chairman of BlueLink Marketing


By Declan Carney

The advances made over the last 10 years in mobile devices, in particular with smartphones, were completely unforeseen by the majority of the population and even some within the mobile industry itself.

Typically, new technologies and devices are associated with progress, which pushes the boundaries of what was originally thought possible.

What starts out as a simple idea can be turned into something really useful. Once in a while a truly great idea can forever alter the way we live and, better or for worse, the smartphone and tablets have done just that.

Reinventing the wheel
In just the last decade these devices have dramatically changed the way that we communicate with one another, the way we access information, and the way we consume media.

Surprisingly, though, it has not really changed the way advertisers use these devices to communicate with consumers. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why not?

To help answer this question, it is vital to look at how advertising has evolved.

Early marketers used the printing press to create the advertising leaflet to get brand messages in front of the consumer.

Newspapers and magazines soon followed and created print advertising in all its different forms, while radio created voice recorded advertisements, and television helped create the 30-second video advertisement.

In 1991, email began to offer marketers their first opportunity to reach consumers through the Internet.

There was nothing new or innovative about email advertising. It was a simple direct mail campaign in an electronic format.

Soon after, in 1994 banner advertising – or display advertising, arrived – which was essentially a dumbed-down print ad’s place in a small space of a Web page.

The display ad unit has evolved since then with the advent of new creative sizes such as “takeover pages” or “sponsored wraps,” but none of these ads would look out of place in a newspaper or magazine. Nothing greatly differentiates the ads from traditional print ads.

Google came along in 2000 and reinvented classified ads as a text ad, and successfully sold it to brands as a way to reach their target market and it worked.

We have seen a similar story play out with video advertising online.

Online video advertising is without question an effective way for brands to get their message in front of consumers. But what most brands did was to simply repurpose their TV ads onto the Internet.

Mobile talk, not walk
Innovations in the way brands use social media as a marketing channel has been a slight exception given that it serves as an effective customer service tool.

Along with the lack of innovation in mobile messaging, there is room for improvement in other areas as well.

In 2014, there are still brands that do not have fully mobile-optimized sites. Of those brands that do, many are still not taking full advantage of the fact that we live in a global marketplace.

For example, according to L2 Think Tank, 32 percent of top beauty brands do not have a Chinese-language site despite the fact that 20 percent of all Chinese cosmetics purchases are made online.

With eMarketer predicting that mobile advertising expenditure will quadruple by 2016, it is incumbent on the greater industry to leverage ways to innovate advertising on mobile devices to tap into the market share potential that is imminent and, ultimately, have an authentic two-way conversation with the consumer that is meaningful and memorable.

That said, some might also argue that the rapid growth in purchases made using a mobile device would indicate that we do not need to create any new uniquely mobile ad formats.

According to a study by IBM, there was a 46 percent increase in mobile sales in the United States market in 2013, with mobile accounting for 16.6 percent of all online sales in the fourth quarter of 2013.

A survey carry out by IMRG in Britain shows that purchases made through mobile in the fourth-quarter of 2013 rose by 18.5 percent, accounting for 32 percent of all online sales, while visits to online retail Web sites in Britain via mobile devices rose to 45 percent of the overall British traffic.

Goldman Sachs predicts that global sales made via mobile devices will hit $638 billion by 2018. Some other experts predict even higher growth.

IT IS NOT an overstatement to say that in the history of human innovation no other device has ever been carried so many people from so many different geographical, social and economic backgrounds.

Mobile devices are with us 24/7, 365. Despite the continuous growth in purchases made via mobile devices, I would argue that without really innovating in the way that brands use mobile to communicate their message, they will never truly take advantage of what mobile devices can do.

Declan Carney is cofounder/chairman of BlueLink Marketing, New York. Reach him at