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Mobile Ads: Brands That Do It Right (and Wrong!)

Posted on the 12 September 2012 by Tchu @UpStreamMPM

A marketing colleague whom I have known a long time recently asked me for suggestions to improve his company’s mobile advertising. I had to be honest with him that I really don’t pay attention to mobile advertising and that it was a little like asking a sushi chef to cook you a well done rib-eye steak. I could certainly tell him about what I have seen in the industry, but I should really go do some homework first.

My Homework: Noticing mobile ads and the full customer experience

When I use my iPhone I am usually looking for quick info and not really interested in exploring the great parts of the "interwebs". I don’t think I have ever taken direct, immediate action such as buying or signing up for a product or service based on an ad I have seen. It is possible however that I have been subconsciously influenced, and that the brand message has been stored away in my brain for some future use.

To remedy my lack of use I started paying attention to what ads I saw while on my iPhone, especially ones that might interest me, over the next several weeks. What I found was pretty surprising, in a rather tragic and unfortunate way.

The first one that caught my eye was a McDonald’s ad. I was about to leave on a trip in a couple days, and I will admit that when on the road I crave McDonald’s. 

McDonald's banner

 The ad was enticing enough: $1 off a drink. I certainly couldn’t read that fine print, so I clicked to get more details. 


Where I went next was a bit of a surprise landing page. Who are these four people, and how do I get my $1 off? Did they already get a $1 off? Did someone at McDonald’s ad agency goof up and send people to a bad page or did someone actually think this would get people to take action? This was pretty much a dead end for me; I abandoned my quest for the mystery coupon. 

McDonald’s experience: Mc’Doh!

Next up was a computer ad for Acer. I was browsing ESPN, doing some recon work for an upcoming fantasy football draft and came across this ad on ESPN’s homepage.


The ad itself isn’t very enticing; under normal conditions I would not have clicked it. But since it’s a brand name and I like technology I wanted to see what it was about.


 Next came a pop-up to show pretty much a larger version of the ad. It didn’t really tell me anything new, it just repeated the small ad unit which seems like a waste. Any time you introduce another click you will get large amounts of drop off, so in the game of small numbers we have made what is probably a low click thru rate even lower. Luckily I was in a clicking mood and clicked yet again to "explore more".



Again I was a little underwhelmed here. Now at my third connection with the brand – and still no story to be told. To top it off, I was displayed the normal web site, not one optimized for mobile. It was time to abandon this search and look for another promising ad.

Acer experience: Ultra-weak

The next ad up was for a movie – The Dictator. I have been a Netflix customer for a long time and I needed to update my priority list, so this ad in particular happened to be timely for me, but potentially unfortunate for the advertiser since I wasn’t going to buy.


What I am not showing here is another screen shot of just the small ad unit. ESPN seems to like advertisers to use these pop-ups. It is a little bit annoying since it just introduces yet another page or click between the ad and whatever action you are trying to get me to do. Maybe I am in the minority here and other people like this format?


Annoying landing page aside, this landing page was on the right track. It finally took me to a page I could do something with – make a purchase! It would have been nice if this was optimized to my form factor, but given the other two bad ads I had seen so far this was a marked improvement in terms of experience.

Amazon experience: 4 out of 5 stars 

A couple of days later I was back on ESPN , a site I frequent quite a lot if you haven’t guess by now. This time I noticed a Geico ad. 


This actually seemed pretty relevant. I had just gotten a notice that my current car insurance provider was going to jack up my rates. I may even have actually clicked on this ad in the wild. 


I was pleasantly surprised that the landing page was optimized for the iPhone and that it was getting right down to business! Kudos to Geico for a good user experience.

Geico experience: Worth 15 minutes

The next ad up was Intel. I was lucky enough to intern at Intel a long time ago and I admire how these guys run their company and put out products. So I had high hopes here the advertising will live up to those expectations.


The ad isn’t bad; the term Ultrabooks is hot and very popular these days. The question, though, was would I leave my beloved ESPN and NFL to read more about Ultrabooks? The answer: probably not. I may have filed away the association of Intel to Ultrabooks in the back of my mind and come back later (possibly) to this topic. From a branding perspective maybe this ad did work. For the sake of science, I clicked on. 


This landing page was pretty bad. On 3G it took forever to load, and in full disclosure I abandoned it because it took too long. It obviously wasn’t designed to be viewed on a mobile device. This landing page was disappointing.

Intel Experience: Uninspired and unresonsive

Next up was StubHub, a ticket site where people can buy and sell tickets to see games, concerts and the like. 


This is probably the most in contextual ad of the bunch. I am obviously (by now) spending a lot of time reading up about the NFL’s upcoming season, and potentially in the market for tickets. They probably didn’t know that I already bought tickets to see the Seahawks using StubHub a couple weeks prior. I'm happy to finally see a contextually relevant ad!


The landing page is optimized for the iPhone and even tries to get me to add it as an app to my phone (long term advertising!). Someone was certainly thinking. It may have been nice if these landing pages were dynamic and defaulted to NFL tickets, for example. But giving credit where credit is due, they did a good job of completing the user experience.

StubHub experience: Touchdown!

The final ad was posted in an app on my iPhone called 'Demotivation'. If you have ever seen those motivation posters some companies post on their walls about "success", or "achievement" or "teamwork", this is a UGC site that does the exact opposite and pokes fun at all those situations.


I left the page in since the caption was a bit fitting for this blog article and a bit humorous to boot. The ad unfortunately wasn’t so funny. The P'zolo is a Pizza Hut creation. Had I not seen their other ads on TV I probably wouldn’t have known what a Pzolo is since there is no mention of the Pizza Hut brand on the ad. Maybe they thought it would entice a click to discover more? Unfortunately, the ad was broken. There was no landing page and clicking the order now button took you exactly nowhere. Who’s at fault in that situation I don’t really know, but it was definitely a lost opportunity.

Pizza Hut experience: Pzzzzt

Coming back to the original topic about how to improve your mobile advertising, it seems a back-to- basics plan is in order. The ads I looked at are all big brands that most people will recognize and all of them certainly have large advertising budgets. It was rather shocking to see how poorly executed most of these were. So my advice to my friend was to make mobile a first class citizen; if you are going to spend the time and money on mobile, make sure you do it correctly. Get the creative right, deliver the appropriate message, optimize for the device the user is on, and verify that the mechanics all work. Fine tune the basic block and tackle elements and, based on my quick survey, you’ll be better than half the marketers out there.

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