Why Mobile Advertising Still Sucks – and Why AI Might Finally Change Things

By Benjamin Arnold, President, North America, Adludio 

We spend so much time with mobile screens that many device makers have implemented various screen time warnings to help people keep track of their habits.

Based on our experience, these devices should come with ‘terrible advertising’ time warnings as well.

Because a decade and a half after the dawn of the smartphone era, we’re still enduring mobile advertising that is either maddeningly intrusive, devoid of creativity, or both.

That’s why it’s long past time for a creative revolution in mobile advertising – one that hopefully is driven by powerful advancements in artificial intelligence.

The problem is us

In the US alone, over 250 million adults spend an average of four and a half hours per day staring at mobile screens. This number is growing so quickly that it is taking time away from Americans’ usage of PCs and tablets – which has shrunk by 10% since 2019, according to Insider Intelligence.

Yet rarely do you see – amidst a still growing digital advertising market – forecasts for major growth in mobile advertising outside of social.

That isn’t to say that mobile web advertising isn’t big. It’s just that it’s dominated by apps pushing consumers to download other apps, or games looking to redirect players to  other mobile games; global spending on gaming apps is expected to become a $26.7 billion global market alone, according to AppsFlyer. Certainly, there is a place for performance advertising – but far too many of these campaigns treat creativity as a secondary or unnecessary consideration.

The brand dollars that do flow to this sector unfortunately are often expressed via oppressive takeover ads or autoplay videos that assault the senses while preventing users from getting to the content or service they are looking for.

The way that mobile is treated is so out of step with its potential. We have taken this time-consuming, engagement dominant screen, and largely ignored it. Too often, mobile is not a priority among media agencies, and even serves as a throw-in for many brands. Historically, agencies haven’t been sure where to put mobile advertising (Is it digital? Something distinct? Meant to be in-house?) which has stifled its growth and starved it of its deserved attention.

Thankfully, I believe we’re on the verge of technology-led creative revival for mobile – as long as industry leaders recognize and take advantage of what’s right in front of them.

AI can reinvigorate mobile ads – and bring more brands into the mix

As investment in ad tech has exploded over the past decade, creative ad tech has been relatively ignored, in favor of identity solutions and cookie-based targeting.

Even the Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) category – which once provided hope that we’d see customized ads for each web user – has become stagnant and underwhelming. As most of the innovation in programmatic has been focused on delivering targeting and scale, creative quality in digital advertising has suffered overall. According to the University of California, the average person is exposed to 5,000 ads per day, while 5.3 trillion display ads are served each year! Here’s betting that most of us would struggle to recall most mobile ads – which strikes at this huge missed opportunity.

That’s why we’re so excited about AI.

While much of the early conversation around this topic has focused on how AI will change how agencies work, and whether they’ll need as many people as they do today, we believe that the technology will enable digital advertising creative to finally live up to its promise – dramatically altering the design process while improving effectiveness for brand-specific objectives.

Nowhere will this impact be felt more than in mobile.

Yes, advancements in generative AI should enable the production of creative ads on a mass scale and in real-time. But this revolution won’t just be about efficiency.

Instead, we see tools emerging to allow brands to deliver more relevant and customized messages to specific consumer audiences. Through the development of sophisticated AI-based techniques – including computer vision, neural networks and natural language processing – these tools will be able to deliver real insights and intelligence into exactly why particular creative messages and executions performed well – or didn’t.

Rather than replacing human-led creativity, AI promises to unlock it. This should finally allow for breakthrough, highly memorable – even beloved – creative executions.

But to achieve this will require not only increased investment (both financial and time), but a mindset shift. Marketers, media buyers and even ad sellers will need to rethink how they view mobile ads, and indeed the medium’s purpose. Mobile ads can actually become beautiful, engaging, even intoxicating, when the right talent and AI tools are combined.

The result will be not just an expansion in the number of tactics available to marketers, but the birth of an entirely new, revolutionary medium – albeit one that nearly every consumer already holds dearly in their hands.

Tags: AI