Mobile advertising's not all it's cracked up to be


Mobile advertising is huge. Every day, Americans collectively spend over 1 million months on their smart phones, according to a SolveMedia report, and men are more likely to sleep with their smartphones than to wash their hands after using the toilet (something worth knowing before you ask to use some guy’s smartphone).

But looked at as a whole, it’s also hugely ineffective.

A waste of money

Last year alone, the revenue mobile advertisers lost due to accidental clicks could have bought 1,925 Lamborghinis – at full sticker price.

Americans other than Dennis Rodman are more likely to view North Korea favorably than mobile ads.

You’re 116 times more likely to survive a rattlesnake bite than to click a mobile banner ad on purpose.

You’re twice as likely to not even see a mobile ad than to respond to one you’ve actually seen. Which, in a way, is not the least bit surprising when you consider that the average mobile banner ad is about one-third the size of an earthworm.

And one place where mobile advertising is particularly ineffective is in retail stores.

True, 80 percent of consumers say they use their smartphones while shopping and 89 percent while shopping for groceries. But that research doesn’t say how often.

Kantar Media research does. Of 38,000 mobile users surveyed in 43 markets worldwide their TNS division surveyed, “[o]n a category level: 2 percent recall having used [their smartphone] when buying OTC medicines; 2 percent when buying pet food; 2 percent when buying alcohol; 1 percent when buying tobacco.”

In-store supermarket observation in the US showed that “[o]f 1,000 aisle shoppers in a snack category, fewer than five shoppers interacted with their mobile device, and those who did were simply answering a phone call.”

While 16 percent of mobile owners surveyed said they want mobile coupons to save money, 16 percent said they wanted apps to check products’ availability, 15 percent they wanted in-store navigation aids and 13  percent said they want apps or mobile websites with product reviews, there was no indication they’d actually use those features if they had them.

Human nature suggests they wouldn’t.

A waste of time

For many shoppers, getting in and out quickly outweighs taking longer to save a few cents on a deal. The two minutes an average shopper spends at the baby products counter is practically an eternity compared to the 20 seconds the same consumer averages buying milk.

Especially in low-involvement categories such as household products and dairy, consumers choose the same brands over and over by habit, even though a better product may be just inches away on the same shelf.

And most consumers find that using their mobile technology for shopping is just more time and trouble than it’s worth. According to a 2012 eMarketer report, for example, just 9 percent of US consumers used QR codes that year, because it took them too many clicks to get the information they wanted.

Spend a little more, waste a lot less

But there are mobile apps that consumers might be more likely to use, because they speed shopping rather than delaying it:

  • When shoppers open Shopkick in a store, for example, they get offers from that store on an in-store signal.
  • Aisle 411 gives shoppers time-saving store maps while delivering context-relevant offers.
  • Scandit lets shoppers scan and check out their purchases as they pick them off the shelves, eliminating the line at the cash register.
  • And a Woolworth’s app from Australiasorts shopping-list items in the order that gets a shopper through the store most quickly.

Apps like these – particularly those calling for in-store signals – may cost retailers a bit more. But that’ll be less than they now waste on mobile banners and apps that nobody really uses.

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