If you're trying to sell things on mobile, you face an uphill battle. People don't like mobile ads and they have little patience for slow or broken sites or apps.
A new survey of people's attitudes towards what they are offered on their mobile devices has been released by brand research agency Millward Brown. The AdReaction study has been run for 11 years now, and this year's version focuses on mobile. The study produced editions (PDFs) covering both global and United States mobile users.
First the hard truth, which won't come as a surprise to anyone whose life is entwined with a mobile device. People feel very strongly about their mobiles; they entrust a great deal of themselves to them. The devices are always with them. As many as 90 percent of smartphone owners aged 18-29 sleep with their phones.
So you can imagine how people feel about advertising sent to their mobile devices, especially if it is poorly timed, disruptive, battery-draining, or simply doesn't work right. They don't like it.
Since 2009 Millward Brown has been asking mobile users how they feel about ads of different sorts, including mobile ads. In both the 2009 and 2012 surveys, the favorability rating for mobile advertising -- the percentage or people who said their attitude towards the ads was either somewhat or very favorable -- was the same as that for email spam. Seven percent were favorable towards both in 2009, and nine percent this year. (The survey delicately refers to spam as "non-opt-in emails.") Frankly, I'm amazed that they found single-digit percentages of people who said they like spam. Also mobile ads.
Please just work
The study's authors speculate that the reason for mobile advertising's low ratings is that it simply is not very good. The same applies to websites tailored for mobile and to apps. People want and expect an excellent experience on their mobile devices, and advertisers -- and web and app developers -- are largely failing to deliver it.
MediaPost.com posted an article on the survey's results, and quoted Joline McGoldrick, research director at Dynamic Logic, as follows: "Consumers want mobile ads to target them effectively." This is a strange and narrow reading of the survey's results.
People want ads to work, if ads there must be. Their disappointment is not about the failure of ad companies to follow, track, and target them with sufficient thoroughness. It's about Flash ads displayed on iOS devices (which can't show them); it's about poorly thought-out mobile websites that offer the wrong subset of the information available on the main site. Why subset at all? As blogger Havi Hoffman wrote here recently, reviewing Karen McGrane's Content Strategy for Mobile, we should "design for content parity across all devices," not handicap mobile.
Give people the competent, high-quality, functional, and user-friendly experiences they want on their mobile devices, and they won't mind so much when some of them turn out to be advertising.