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Performance Firestarters 7: The Mobile Future – Performance or Branding?


For the seventh in our series of Firestarters events for the performance marketing community, we focused on a specific but fascinating aspect of mobile marketing – the question of whether its future will be more defined by performance or brand advertising.

Ian Maude from Enders Analysis gave a great scene setter supported by some good data showing how mobile is the driving force in both digital commerce and digital ad growth. Whilst PC penetration is forecast to remain relatively stable and mobile adoption is reaching maturity, Enders predict that Mobile will soon (by 2020) account for 75% of time online. We’ve seen rapid growth in mobile search and performance advertising and whilst this will continue it will be joined by a new wave of brand advertising on mobile as consumption increases and ad spend follows the eyeballs. Enders predict that we are moving towards half of all advertising spend being on the internet, with advertising becoming less TV centric, but the ability to fuse TV and internet/mobile audience data will be key.


Alex Hewson, Media Director at M & C Saatchi Mobile, talked about how 90% of their billings currently come from performance based marketing, and how performance based data underpins just about every aspect of their work. Their approach to planning for mobile incorporates elements of the customer journey from brand performance (intent, engagement), user acquisition (app install, registration, subscription), to life-time value (usage, retention, (re)purchase). He gave examples of how specific types of mobile-friendly targeting can be used to drive these different kinds of objectives, and then how a layered approach to buying (buying against different metrics to support different staged objectives) can minimise risk, and how post-install data for apps is key to properly judging value (given the wide gap that often exists between install and usage rates – something that is in-turn creating additional options to drive improved ROI). 

Alex finished by talking a bit about mobile creative in the context of data-driven test-and-learn, a theme built on by Ben Rickard, Head of Mobile at MEC, who spoke about what he called ‘mobile’s dirty little secret’ –  their research had indicated that up to 75-80% of UK mobile inventory is still standard 320 x 50 or 300 x 50 banner formats, meaning a huge missed opportunity for advertisers to utilise the kind of larger, more engaging in-feed formats that he believes will be key to the future of brand advertising on mobile. In terms of formats, said Ben, brand ads are running on old rolling stock whilst social ad formats are becoming the norm. And in fact the latest UK IAB Ad Spend data for the full year 2014 (out that very day) supports this assertion showing content and native ads (including in-feed advertising) are now a fifth of total display with social media advertising (powered by native) growing by 65% year-on-year, and representing one half of all mobile display now. Ben laid down a challenge calling for a new approach to planning with objectives driving formats, the centralisation of creative analytics and insights (through Celtra), greater availability (from owners) and demand (from advertisers) for larger, in-feed formats and mobile video, and improved standards across Europe on mobile brand advertising.

Scott Seaborn, Global Head of Mobile Strategy for Aimia (Nectar and Air Miles), finished with a witty and entertaining talk about moments in mobile history and how we tend to view the future through the lens of the past. Scott’s challenge was for brands to be braver about iterating in market with mobile, and to start with the unique, ‘personal’ attributes of mobile as a way to create compelling, creative, mobile-first ideas (he talked a lot about how mobile makes you feel, rather than just its visual aspects).


It was a fascinating evening and the debate afterwards echoed the fact that whilst consumption is in rapid growth, and ad spend is now really starting to follow that growth, there are still many questions that we do not have the answers to just yet. It certainly felt as though whilst the performance side of mobile marketing might have mature more rapidly, it is in the brand marketing side that many of these questions remain, but lots of optimism from our speakers that we are potentially on the verge of a step change in how we do brand advertising on mobile. The amazing Sciberia were on hand as always to take visual notes of the talks, and you can see their visualisation in all its glory here. My thanks as always to Google for hosting, to everyone that came along, and of-course to our excellent speakers.

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