mobile-apps2Though they appear on small screens, mobile display ads – banner ads that pop up in mobile Web browsers – “can have a big effect on consumers who are in the market for certain types of products,” according to researchers at the Columbia Business School.

“Digital advertising in mobile channels is experiencing explosive growth,” Miklos Sarvary, report co-author and co-director of Columbia University Business School’s Media Program, points out. According to eMarketer, brands spent $8.4 billion on mobile advertising in 2013, and that’s expected to quadruple to $36 billion by 2017.

Marketing professionals continue to struggle to track the effectiveness of mobile ads and continue to take a shotgun approach in their ad buying and placement approaches, however. “Digital advertising in mobile channels is experiencing explosive growth,” Sarvary was quoted as saying in a press release.

“But many marketers are still using a ‘spray and pray’ approach to digital ads. In other words, they’re just putting mobile ads out there and hoping that they work. Limitations in tracking smartphone ads have always made it difficult for marketers to track and optimize their return on investment, but we’ve unlocked a part of that mystery now, which means they’ll know how to best to spend their dollars.”

Mobile Advertising Do’s and Don’ts
Aiming to provide better measures of mobile ad effectiveness, Columbia B-school Media Program researchers delved into the murky world of human psychology. Investigating the effects of mobile display ads (MDAs) viewed across a variety of mobile devices including smartphones, the researchers surveyed nearly 40,000 U.S. consumers to assess their reactions to MDAs.

Researchers studied mobile ads for more than 50 products, with survey participants asked to complete a survey designed “to assess their attitude toward and intention of buying the product.”

The results are spelled out in a Journal of Marketing Research article entitled, “Which Products are Best Suited to Mobile Advertising? A Field Study of Mobile Display Advertising Effects on Consumer Attitudes and Intentions.” Classifying products as “utilitarian” or “hedonic” and high or low involvement, Sarvary and co-authors Andrew T. Stephen of the Columbia Business School and INSEAD’s Yakov Bart found:

  • Mobile ads do work for products that have a practical and important use, like a lawn mower or a washing machine;
  • Mobile ads do work for high-involvement products (a lot of time, thought and energy is placed into the decision, like a family car);
  • Mobile ads don’t work for just-for-pleasure items, like fancy watches;
  • Mobile items don’t work for low-involvement purchases like movie tickets or toothbrush (ones that pose a low risk to the buyer).

Elaborating on their findings, the report authors note that, “It might take you weeks or months before deciding to bite the bullet and buy the car you’ve been thinking so much about.

“During that time, you’re debating with yourself about which model of car you should buy,” Sarvary continued. “If a display ad for that car shows up on your smartphone, even if it’s tiny and doesn’t provide you with new information, it’ll reinforce what you already know about the product.”

Marketers can capitalize on these findings by changing their approach to multi-channel media campaigns and mobile ad placements and timing, the report authors highlight. “Rather than sticking with a ‘spray and pray’ approach, they might find it’s more effective to launch mobile display ads after a product has been advertised in other media.” That way,  according to Sarvary, “The banner ad seals the deal.”

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