Consumers have accepted advertising online, but targeted mobile ads? Not so much

Mobile advertising has up to now relied upon massive campaigns with poor results. There is a belief you cannot intelligently advertise on mobile, but now more than ever, this is simply untrue.

Last month eMarketer revealed it is expecting the global smartphone audience to surpass 1.75 billion in 2014. It also stated that 4.55 billion people are predicted to use a mobile phone in 2014, thanks to increased availability in the developing regions of Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Tell these stats to an advertiser responsible for mobile advertising and watch their faces light up. A platform is now available that brings a potential audience of billions of users – more than Facebook and Twitter combined – and it’s growing. The opportunity to reach such massive audiences is gold dust to the advertising industry.

They are looking to take advantage too. Gartner revealed that global mobile ad spending is forecast to reach $18.0 billion in 2014, up from the estimated $13.1 billion in 2013. It also expects the market to grow to $41.9 billion by 2017.

It is undoubtedly a booming market. Yet there is a real problem.

In the past five years, online advertising has become incredibly intelligent. We are now at the stage where ads can be served based on what consumers are sharing and talking about. Sharing has become something of a phenomenon and can come in all forms, whether it be a tweet, a shortened URL, even an email telling someone to look at a link. Advertisers are increasingly able to build profiles of people, based on their interests and what they are sharing across the Open Web, and serving relevant ads accordingly at to scale. Consumers have reacted well. They understand that they are going to be served ads online these days – it’s what makes the internet tick – so they may as well be useful.

However, the same can’t be said for mobile devices. There is a distinct lack of “intelligent advertising” on this platform, and when you consider Gartner’s figures and projections, it is a costly miss. Without doubt, an archaic approach to advertising still exists. By that, I mean that advertisers have reverted to the “clusterbomb” approach of advertising – no analysis or resesarch of whether the user is interested in your brand and may be likely to click through, research and even invest, but rather putting out as many ads as possible in the hope that some people will bite. It’s an incredibly expensive way of getting your message out there. And if anything, it can be detrimental – consumers, who expect relevant marketing messages, are likely to be irritated by intrusive, non-relevant ads, especially as they are increasingly seeing marketing messages tailored to their interests. It reeks of the early days of online advertising, where you received ads for something you had no interest in whatsoever.

Let me give you an example. Last year, I got pretty hooked on an app called Stick Tennis. A very simple game, but highly addictive. In between each set, I would be served an ad. On numerous occasions, I was served an ad for Wonga. I wouldn’t dream of using a service like Wonga. Not in a million years. Frustration aside, it did make me realise two things. Firstly, brands are frittering away significant and precious budgets on advertising that is going to provide a minimal return. Put bluntly, it’s a complete waste. Secondly, there seems to be a level of thought that you can’t replicate the level of targeting on mobile that you can on desktop. But that is simply not true.

There are so many opportunities for advertisers and agencies alike to reach the huge number of mobile users, especially through apps. This is another economy which is continuing to grow and grow. Last year, APPNATION forecasted that revenue from apps is to continue to expand over the next four years and that, by 2017, the market will be worth over $150 billion – more than twice what it was worth in 2012. This naturally implies more apps being created and crucially, more consumer use.

Apps can be a hugely powerful communications tool and can help marketers get to know their potential audiences even better. This then brings considerably more opportunity to serve them more targeted messages, which results in more click-throughs and, ultimately, more sales. For example, use of a football app may drop off between seasons – leading to missed advertising and marketing opportunities within the app.

However, we are at the stage where brands can implement appropriate in-app tracking. This enables them to understand how users behave and therefore intelligently segment an audience, identify supported teams and so on. Relevant and bespoke news alerts and messages can then be driven through push notifications to engaged users. This, in turn, exposes them to mobile advertising while simultaneously providing a better user experience and hence more opportunities to up-sell. And, as consumers’ behaviour and reactions to mobile advertising can be tracked, it brings the opportunity to set up personalised ads in the future in order to re-engage them further down the line, thus keeping the cycle turning.

This methodology can naturally be applied across every sector, not just football. The opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of mobile is therefore enormous, as the technology now exists to serve relevant ads at the right time and at scale, making the process of just blasting out ads and hoping for the best a thing of the past. Those that add this layer of intelligence to their mobile strategies now are going to be the ones that stop the slew of wastage and truly reap the benefits.

Rupert Staines is European MD of RadiumOne

The global smartphone audience is expected to surpass 1.75 billion in 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.