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Mobile advertising – a journey of facts, stats and fiction


Mobile advertising – a journey of facts, stats and fiction


Until recently I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the dungeons of mobile advertising; that is, using web banners and other mechanisms to generate a response to some clever call to action. So let me take you on my discovery journey of facts, stats and fiction.

I am sure Morgan Stanley has found this prediction quoted more times than just about anything else it’s released: “By 2014, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device worldwide.” In fact, as a mobile business, if you don’t list it somewhere in your collateral, then the rest of the industry will look on with bewilderment.

Notwithstanding the overused prediction, through my recent international travels I have discovered, in fact, that in some countries this is already true and in others it will take longer. Any emerging country or one with latent PC uptake will most likely be able to justify that the mobile is now more common as an access tool for the web than PCs. Five years ago in Singapore, for example, there were as many internet cafés as there were shopping malls; now they are as rare as Apple’s first tablet, the Newton.

In the Philippines, I saw three empty former internet cafés and struggled to find any open. But every person sitting on a park bench, on a bus or waiting for a taxi was on their mobile doing ‘something’. People are moving from desktop to mobile very quickly in these regions, whereas in Australia, due to the already significantly higher PC penetration rate, I suspect the Morgan Stanley prediction to be out by two years at least. And where would you position tablets that are starting to squeeze out a segment of the laptop market?

But from a mobile marketing and advertising aspect, the more important and compelling statistic is that over 95 percent of personal emails are now read on a mobile. The work PC is no longer entangled with personal pictures, emails and documents, and enterprise human resources departments are no longer implementing bans on accessing Hotmail or other third party email providers. The mobile is the weapon now chosen by employees to distract themselves from mundane work, while engaging in Facebook updates, emails, picture swapping and blogging.

Just as it’s important to have a mobile website viewable on a mobile device, emails must also start adopting many of the same rules. Smaller screens, less functionality, snack, not feast etc. Take a simple approach and, if the email address is from a third-party domain like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo!, assume it’s going to be read on a mobile, so make sure the key message and the offer or call to action are not buried in a slow-to-download, oversized, bloated image causing the consumer to simply hit ‘delete’.

There is a reason why SMS messages are so effective. Sure, it’s a more targeted delivery to a more personal inbox, but it’s also because you have 160 characters to say ‘this is us’ and ‘here is the offer’ with no noise and distraction. Emails these days are as feature rich and busy as many web pages. To be honest, that doesn’t make sense. Outlook by default now doesn’t even download images and many people, in many professions, still stick with basic text emails as a simple security measure.

Back to the topic… If you’re emailing a private email address, then the likelihood is that it will be read on a mobile device. So, ensure the email is readable, snack size, straight to the point and the call to action or offer is easy enough to see in the piece, so as to not rely on scrolling down three or four pages before it comes into view. And one very important final point: make sure all the links to a web page go to a site that is mobile friendly. You’ve invested the time and money in securing a lead or a mailing list and invested effort in sending them an offer, so don’t throw that investment away with a web page in Flash or one that is so multimedia heavy it takes minutes to load and is then too hard to navigate.

What has really astonished me in the journey through mobile ads is the revenue levels being attained and the projections being thrown around. It is estimated that global spending on mobile ads in 2011 was close to $3.3 billion, an increase of over 50 percent from 2010. By 2015, according to Gartner Inc, mobile ad spending will hit $20.6 billion.

I hear many anecdotal claims of the higher value in mobile ads over desktop platforms. It’s one of those statistics that will take some time to prove, but I have heard as high as three times the click-through rate on mobile than desktop. One could speculate that maybe it’s because mobile is more targeted, there is less noise and clutter, so advertising stands out more or even that the mobile ‘surfer’ is less hesitant about clicking on advertising than on a desktop.

Regardless of the reasons, mobile adverts appear to be a very powerful mechanism with far greater click-through rates. As a publisher, however, I would be more hesitant on mobile to embrace advertising on my site, as the statistics also show that less than two percent of people who click a mobile advert return to the original site, as compared to over 70 percent on the desktop. And tablets? Again, it’s far too early to properly understand the behavioural patterns of a tablet user in respect of engaging with advertising.

Then again, the opportunity to use things like ‘in-site landing pages’ for advertisers and to prompt for email/mobile numbers and send details later is significant for publishers, as now they have a semi qualified lead with a number or email address: far higher value than a basic click-through lead. And, as a high traffic site, the ability to carefully and in a considered fashion deploy advertising to supplement other revenue streams is far more effective on mobile than desktop.

I always caution people about how they interpret statistics and how they let statistics guide business decisions. The consumer usage and interaction patterns on mobile are so vastly different between countries and regions that using ‘global’ statistics or those from the US and applying the insight in the local market could spell disaster. Desktop web consumer usage patterns are, in many ways, a lot more common across geographies than the mobile.

Some of the more dominant players in the enterprise mobile space, including Mobile Embrace, have researched some local understanding and some local statistics. There is some great insight around these and you will start to appreciate how they materially vary from, say, the UK stats or even those of the US.


Australia has one of the highest smartphone penetration levels in the world.

This is true of smartphones and does not include feature phones, which some analysts tend to bundle together. Much of the reasoning behind the uptake rate in Australia is based on the carrier subsidy arrangements. In many countries, consumers have to buy their own phones and don’t get the chance to ‘bundle’. An $800 asset is a major acquisition for many younger generations and without carriers bundling and subsidising, the churn rate would be four-plus years, not two years!


By 2015, the number of Australian smartphone users is predicted to hit 18.5 million, with close to 90 percent of all mobile phone users having a smartphone as their primary device.

There are a number of key insights here. Most importantly, it means that mobile web traffic is going to increase tenfold, causing congestion and latency. So creating mobile pages that are lean, optimised and highly efficient will become more critical than simply addressing the presentation issues. I’ve seen incredible efforts by internal IT departments using third party tools and utilities to create mobile websites that look fantastic and render on multiple devices, but are fat and bloated and take longer to load than the desktop. Even if you hand code and use some tools, you have to ensure you pass your site through a content rendering and optimisation proxy server; else you’ll just have a very well-structured and presented page that in reality is one big fat mobile website that no one will wait to view.

Apple ‘iDevices’ dominate the Australian market as the preferred mobile vehicle to browse online content – 84 percent of online visitations.

I saw a similar statistic to this some time ago. What it forces us to do is view ‘handset penetration rates’ with a degree of caution, as what we really want to know is the penetration or usage rate ‘among consumers likely to use the web’. Through 2011, the iPhone domination of mobile web certainly declined and, in fact, towards the end of 2011, the race between Android and iDevices for mobile web access was balancing out.


A Telstra consumer survey revealed that nearly 50 percent of Australians rank mobile phones as the innovation they value the most.

This is really just a different spin on the survey I saw five years ago, where more people would prefer to lose their wallet than their mobile. To digress a little, think about the dangers in this statement… Their mobiles are so important to them, because they contain their email, pictures, phone numbers and personal contacts, and buried somewhere discreetly will be a password file and maybe credit card records, either as an electronic statement in email or some other form. So, lose your phone and you are offering up the most comprehensive set of materials for identity theft that a con artist could ever devise. With someone’s mobile, I believe it would take a semi-professional fewer than two days to have a bank account, credit card and loan in this person’s name.


According to Google, the mobile device will be the number one screen through which users engage with advertisers’ digital brands.

Wow! Forget every other statistic: take heed of this one! Google in 2011 made some significant ‘under the radar’ movement in mobile and is obviously heavily invested in the medium. This doesn’t just have an impact upon how you design your website, but touches on email marketing, banner advertising and even the tactical decisions on how to call to action from traditional mediums trying to integrate digital.


The mobile-commerce revolution will explode with mobile payments increasing 40 percent year on year and will reach 2.5 billion users globally by 2015 (Juniper Research).

This is an incredibly ambitious prediction, but, given the records being set with mobile already, it’s more than achievable. It’s more than 25 times the growth experienced on traditional web commerce. Can consumers use their mobile to buy products in-store and not have to queue? By 2014, it’s predicted that over 50 percent of retail purchases can be settled using the mobile, with no human interaction from store personnel whatsoever. That makes the ‘upsell’ challenging and means ‘counter staff ‘ need to focus more on service than settlement to have retailers with any differentiation.


Online retail sales in Australia will almost double from $16.9 billion in 2009 to $33.3 billion in 2015 (Forrester Research Online Forecast 2010 to 2015 – Asia Pacific).

Last year, GAP in the US attributed its threefold increase in online sales to its mobile initiatives. Many retailers in Australia are also seeing the impact of mobile on driving online business. There’s a catch, however. Aggregation and ‘best deals’ type applications and websites mean a consumer could be in your store in ‘discovery mode’ and utilise all your display and people knowledge only to jump on their favourite price comparison tool before ordering and purchasing from another retailer. It was interesting to read how a retailer was training staff in handling the ‘mobile shopper’ by identifying those comparing prices in-store and how to convert the sale. This also highlights the challenge for retailers: what prices do you show on the web and how do you use ambiguous pricing, so comparison sites show you the cheapest, yet when you’re in-store and settling additional charges you can still return some profitability?


Australians are more willing to receive ads on their mobiles than any other market in the world, with three-quarters of respondents saying they would be comfortable with mobile advertising.

Interestingly, similar kinds of statistics used to circulate regarding Australians’ responsiveness to SMS and MMS offers. Without doubt, we had one of the highest response rates to MMS offer and coupon campaigns on the globe. It appears this willingness to embrace advertising and see it on websites is continuing.


The Australian mobile ad market grew by 38 percent to over one billion quarterly ad impressions in the quarter ending (QE) July 2011.

I suspect this figure is very skewed by the slow rate at which Australian retail or digital sites moved to mobile. We have one of the lowest rates of mobile website adaptation or development, and in 2011 it was reported that our deployment of new mobile web properties, including mobilisation of existing sites, was slower than in Ireland. Having said that, however, I do firmly believe that online mobile advertising is set to be the fastest growing, most lucrative, highest ROI and exciting area of online and digital for the next two to three years.

Smartphone ad impressions grew by 52 percent to close to 900 million impressions in QE July 2011. That’s an amazing increase, driven in part by more inventory as major portals and other information sites ‘go mobile’ and seek mobile-specialised advertisers. A recent major Google study revealed that Australia is leading the smartphone global revolution, with two in five Australians searching on their smartphones daily.

Remember, going mobile is about some technical issues, consumer behavioural and interface issues, presentation and snacking, and finally, and increasingly importantly, its size. The mobile web must be optimised and efficient, not fat and bloated. If we are to see a fourfold increase in consumer web access and online activity across materially the same network capability, then we either think hard about optimisation and what we are delivering or the success itself will, in turn, drive consumer frustration.

Joe Barber

Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of Edge80.com with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.

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