“Creative is one of the key pillars of mobile advertising,” says Tom Pearman, managing director of Weve, the mobile marketing and insights firm owned by O2. “For us, it’s a case of right people, right place, right execution.”
Whenever you mention creativity on mobile, though, there’s at least one elephant in the room. This is something that Jonathan Milne, chief revenue officer at digital creative management platform Celtra, is happy to admit.
“In mobile advertising, investing in creative hasn’t necessarily been a priority for lots of media owners, data owners, and even for some brands,” Milne says.
“If you want to do successful advertising, you need two things: media and message. Very simply, you need to find an audience and you need to show them something. In digital, it’s often been the case that message has relegated to being an afterthought.”
So, why is it that creative has been a second-class citizen on mobile? Is it just an inherent failing of the channel?
“Sometimes people ask the question of whether you can be as creative on mobile. And I think that’s probably the wrong question, frankly,” says Milne.
“As a medium, there are all kinds of cool things you can do with mobile – but at the same time, creativity doesn’t have to be about fancy functionality. It doesn’t have to be about putting 50 features into an ad. Creativity is about an idea, and about telling a brand’s story in a compelling way. Some of the most creative ads can last two or three seconds in term of consumer experience. It doesn’t need to be super detailed and technical.”
Part of the problem is the relative lack of recognition, says Pearman: “If you create TV ads, you win awards. If you create a brilliant mobile banner, you’re less likely to be recognised at one of those ceremonies.”
That has meant that it’s been rare that creative talent from traditional media has been tempted across the digital divide. But this also creates an opportunity.
“What that has allowed to flourish is more niche players, organisations like Weve, taking the lead on mobile creative to deliver the potential for brands,” says Milne.
Friends or foes?
The more recent issue for a company like Weve, which made the move into programmatic last year, is that the technology has long been painted as the enemy of creativity – the cold hard logic to creative’s artistic risk-taking. According to Pearman, though, there’s something wrong with this picture.
“Why should programmatic be in conflict with creative?” he asks.
“Programmatic is a delivery channel. In the same way that, when you can buy TV programmatically, it won’t affect the quality of the advertising you see, there’s no reason that the delivery channel should have any effect on the quality of mobile advertising. All it’s doing is driving the efficiency of reaching that audience. The way in which you build that creative is a separate challenge.
“The two have been debated as foes, but I’m not sure that they’re even in the same ballpark. One is the delivery channel, the other is the execution at the end of that.”
Again, the roots of this misconception might lie further back in the history of advertising.
“I think the reason why this debate often comes up is that creative and media have always been handled so separately,” says Milne. “So when you’re doing somewhat sophisticated media, creative can feel like it’s even more disconnected from it.
“And I think that’s why you’ve seen those doing the programmatic audience-based media, like Weve, taking control of the creative – to bring those two closer together. If you’re planning and executing that together in the same place, you don’t have to deal with a lot of disparate stakeholders.”
In fact, if used correctly, programmatic should be creative’s greatest ally.
“One of the values of mobile is personalisation – understanding who the audience is,” says Pearman. “For example, working with a brand like Fiat, their ads are going to be talking about different cars and different shades depending on the age and gender of the people they’re marketing to.”
“Programmatic can actually make it easier to do more relevant advertising because the data that was plugged in for the purpose of programmatic media trading can then extend into the creative,” adds Milne. “It’s pre-integrated data for the creative to work with.”
Changing the narrative
Weve and Celtra are working together to push back against the idea that mobile – and mobile programmatic especially – is somehow a roadblock to creativity.
“People often say, can you remember a brilliant creative on mobile?” says Pearman.
“I think 12 months ago, and certainly two years ago, it would have been much harder to think of brands building awesome creatives. But now, immediately I think of BMW, Sky, Fiat, Pepsi, some of the stuff we do with Unilever… Big, big brands that are building creative specifically for mobile.”
This work has proved not only that mobile can be creative, but that creativity isn’t an end unto itself. Better, more interesting ads drive higher engagement – up to 10x, according to Pearman – but also an uplift in that most vital of all metrics: sales.
“We did a case study with Belvita where we saw sales go up by 22 per cent off the back of great creative,” Pearman says.
Milne concurs, pointing to Forrester research commissioned by Celtra in 2016, which found that ‘positive mobile ad experiences’ – better creative, essentially – drove a 2x improvement in brand name recognition versus a negative experience, and a 3x increase in favourable opinions towards the advertised brand.
Another example is Weve’s ‘Volley 360’ ad for Pepsi Max, building on the brand’s Champion’s League sponsorship. The ad revolved around a 30-second 360° video with athletes showing off a multitude of football volley skills, which the user could pan around by swiping or tilting their phone. The ad saw engagement rates of 14.7 per cent, with a 30 per cent completion rate – both well above industry benchmarks.
“Often the challenge with any video ad is that someone starts watching the content, but do they continue? Is the content rich enough to hold their attention there?” says Pearman.
“The Pepsi Max ad had an average dwell time of nearly 14 seconds. That actually breaks the mould a little bit, in terms of how long an ad should be. Historically we’ve worked to trying to keep mobile creative under eight seconds, six seconds is the goal, because it’s not a TV ad, it’s a snippet of consumption.
“What we found on the Pepsi Max ad is, by building rich content with new formats, we could engage consumers far longer.”
According to Pearman, the benefits of improving creativity on mobile may go even further than boosting numbers on individual campaigns.
“What does good creative fix?” he says. “If you think about some of the challenges that mobile has been hit with in the past few years, particularly around topics like ad blocking, one of the core reasons that people don’t necessarily want ads is that they’re not relevant, they’re bad creatives, they’re not landing to the right people. Meanwhile, the smarter, richer content gets more positive feedback.
“Part of the solution to some of these challenges that we have faced in the past year or two will be around simply landing the right creative to the right people.”