Creative Thinking

TouchCreates campaign for the movie, The Walk, used the phones accelerometer to create a game in which the user walks on a tightrope, just like the movies main character

Creativity is a subjective concept. What one person sees as creative may strike someone else as dull and uninspired. It’s an emotive one too: get a bunch of advertising creatives in a room to discuss creativity and the sparks are likely to fly as they advance the merits of some of the campaigns they have worked on.

Think about creativity in TV or cinema advertising and you’re likely to recall memorable campaigns from the likes of Guinness, Hamlet, Honda, Milk Tray, Schweppes, British Airways or Coca-Cola perhaps. But what about mobile? What does creativity look like on a mobile device and indeed, does it even merit discussion, when advertising creatives have traditionally shown little interest in ploughing their trade on the (significantly) smaller screen?

Native capabilities
For Shan Handerson, director of mobile at Yahoo, what’s important is to forget about mobile’s so-called limitations and focus instead on what makes it unique. “The key to creativity on mobile is to focus on the native capabilities of the device and not start with the mindset of limitation,” he says. “It’s much more about the fact that this is an amazing, unique device. Couple that with an understanding of the user, where they are in the journey, and then think about the form factor and the native capabilities of the device – the camera, accelerometer, the microphone. Most of the best examples of creative mobile advertising use some if not all of those features to make it engaging and fun rather than overbearing or intrusive.”

Henderson is not alone in pointing to the phone’s native capabilities – not to be confused with native advertising, one of the simplest, but currently most effective forms of advertising on mobile – as one of the key factors for creative and successful mobile advertising. Indeed, virtually everyone we spoke to for this piece picked up on the same point, often noting that you don’t have to go overboard with how you tap into those capabilities. For a campaign for Gymbox, for example, mobile ad firm Tabmo made the homesecreen look like a treadmill that the user could ‘run’ on using their fingers. Another campaign for HMV invited users to shake their phone to find the perfect Christmas gift. Since the mobile campaign was the only one featuring some of the products involved, Tabmo UK MD Chris Childs says that both he and the client were able to see how successful the campaign was in driving sales uplift.

Learning curve
Tej Rehki, AVP, global mobile product sales at Sizmek, believes that mobile advertising is on a learning curve as it tries to shake off the shackles of its desktop heritage. He says: “As the evolution of mobile occurred, the industry did not change its methodologies and mindsets from desktop, and what you saw was everyone using the same strategies and same approaches to mobile. As a result you saw complete failure – you saw very poor creative, poor execution, creative that didn’t work with mobile, didn’t use its native capabilities, didn’t understand how to use what mobile gave it.”

Then in 2015, came an opportunity for change, when Google dropped support for Flash ads in its Chrome browser. “When Chrome decided to drop Flash people were saying that it’s forcing everyone in desktop to go into HTML5. As a result you would think that creativity in mobile would get better, but what you actually saw was everyone trying to do responsive ads, which is (the idea) that it’s going to work and look the same across all environments, so it has that consistent look and feel. On one hand this is good but on the other, this idea of one size fits all, it doesn’t work. You need to understand the unique parameters of each device. So the combination of certain elements resulted in everyone considering mobile creative as somewhat disgusting and not working very well, but it’s because people are not changing their mindsets and mentality around how to execute it.”

Celtra Matevz-Klanjsek-WEB
Celtra co-founder, Matevz Klanjsek

Matevz Klanjsek, co-founder of Celtra agrees that mobile has wrongly been treated as an offspring of desktop, but says this is not that unusual in new media channels which, initially at least, tend to mimic what has gone before them. “When it comes to creativity in advertising, there are a couple of general rules you can follow to help you understand things,” he says. “The first is that historically, every new form of advertising develops from the previous form. The first TV ads were really just radio ads with a talking head. Then on desktop, you have video ads that look like modern-day TV ads and banners that still look very much like print ads from 50 years ago. Then on mobile people have tried to squeeze the message and communicate with users with these old formats in a confined space in a medium that is alien to those old formats. Consumption on mobile is totally different.”

Consumption on mobile, in fact, is “opportunistic” as Klanjsek puts it. “It’s interruptive; it happens many times for very short amounts of time. So content for mobile has to be designed for this. You can’t just take content from TV and put it on mobile as a preroll, it does not work. People on mobile have a short attention span, not because they’re lazy, but because it’s an interruptive medium. We get a notification every four seconds on mobile so it interrupts the consumption of the content, so if you want someone to watch a 30-second TV commercial on mobile, it’s not going to happen.”

Not only does the content need to be shorter, says Klanjsek, the pacing needs to be different too. “TV commercials follow a familiar narrative arc, with a slow build-up to set the scene then the middle section, then the punchline. Do that on mobile devices and you’ll lose people during the build-up, the pacing needs to be much faster.”

Despite the current state of affairs, however, Klanjsek says he is optimistic about the future, noting how TV advertising reinvented itself in the ‘70s when the talking head ads stopped working. “I think something very similar will happen to digital and mobile and there will be a revolution in creativity, because there will have to be,” he says. “The industry can’t continue as it is.”

InSkins PageSkin ad unit

Creative revolution
InSkin is one of the companies trying to lead this creative revolution. Its PageSkin Edge ad unit was initially created to provide a non-intrusive branding format for the mobile web on tablets, and has since been further developed specifically for smartphones.

It wraps around the top and right-hand sides of webpage content. As the viewer scrolls through the content, the right-hand side element, with branding and calls to action, scrolls the page as well, and remains in view. Jeep, Mazda, Nike and Mercedes are among the advertisers who have deployed the unit, which is currently integrated with 15 UK sites across 12 publishers, including Future, 1XL and the Daily Mail.

InSkin chief commercial officer Steve Doyle says the idea behind the ad unit is to help brands achieve standout in a cluttered space. “Mobile is a challenge given the smaller screen, so what we try to do is to tread the line between advertising that is high impact and engaging, but is not intrusive,” he says. “It’s a fine line, and one that many advertisers cross in mobile.”

At ad firm Imagine Mobile, head of creative Fabio Magalhaes, says that far from seeing mobile as a smaller canvas on which to paint brand stories, he sees it as the biggest screen available to a creative.
“Yes it’s limited physically to a certain size, but I like to think of it as the biggest screen I have because it’s so highly interactive,” he says. “You can touch and scroll in all directions so it’s really more like a window. So imagine that you have this bigger picture, then mobile allows you to use the screen as a window and focus on the small part of that bigger picture then use scroll, touch and swipe to see the larger image in separate parts. You can literally use as much space as you want, you just need to give the user a way to navigate it.”

He adds that the tactile nature of mobile is one of the medium’s most appealing features. “People take the touchscreen for granted, but for me, it’s very powerful and emotional when you can touch the ad,” he says. “It creates an emotional bond between the audience and the brand.”

Mobile specialists may be able to see beyond the apparent limitations of the smaller screen then, but what about the advertisers? According to Carlos Guedes, creative director at TouchCreate in Sydney, they are beginning to get mobile, more so in fact than the traditional agencies working on their TV and online campaigns.

“Clients are much more keen to explore mobile than creative agencies,” he says. “Marketing directors are pretty savvy in that regard, they know mobile is the way to go. “The creative agencies don’t think they are locked to the TV spot, but they are still locked to bigger scale projects where mobile is an afterthought.”
Not that Guedes is complaining. “That’s helped our growth,” he continues. “Clients understand that they need mobile expertise, and this is what we offer. But I do see the creative agencies picking up on that in time as they realise there are a lot of creative capabilities to explore on mobile.”

Mobile complexities
TouchCreate is not the only mobile specialist benefitting from understanding the complexities of mobile. At Wayve, founder and CEO Jamie Parker says there’s a direct correlation between the current lack of creativity in mobile, and the sheer amount of time and effort involved in putting a mobile campaign together. “If you look at the transition from Flash to HTML5 to work on iPhones and tablets, we have seen creative agencies spending a lot more of their time and money on production rather than the creative side of things, which helps you to understand the place we are at, with pockets of really cool stuff but the lion’s share still pretty basic because it’s really hard to do,” says Parker.

This is the problem Wayve aims to solve. “If you look at the typical process of designing and building a mobile ad, the creative agency comes up with the idea and designs, it’s approved by the brand, the assets are created and sent through DoubleClick or Sizmek, and it’s all a bit of a headache, a complex process,” he says. “We try to make the process simple so you can spend more time on the creative. Take the design and video, upload it to our platform and it builds it for you. If you think about taking the lift in a skyscraper to get to the 20th floor, we do the heavy lifting to get you to the 15th.”

Tabmo’s Chris Childs tells a similar story, explaining how his company’s platform enables brands to easily adapt video assets created for TV or online, for use on mobile. The platform enables an advertiser to take a standard video creative, usually shot in landscape format and reformat it for mobile using a portrait window that can be moved to the part of the video the advertisers wants to be seen, outputting the finished video in vertical format for display on mobile. “It makes it easy for users to adapt their videos for a fraction of the cost of having their creative agency adapt it or reshoot it,” says Childs.

Pingit – a great example of creativity in mobile, says Digitas LBIs Ilicco Elia

But there’s more to creativity on mobile than advertising of course. For Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at Digitas LBi, it can be about using mobile to deliver something useful to people. In this respect, he cites Barclays’s development of its mobile payment app, Pingit, as a prime example.

“It’s easy to imagine that many years ago, Barclays might have gone to an ad agency and said: ‘we need more people to have our current accounts, so we need you to create an ad to show how brilliant we and our current accounts are,’” he says. “Whereas what they actually did was to create Pingit, that allows you to pay money to your peers, and which has become one of their leading channels for acquisition for current accounts. It was a piece of utility that people found interesting and so they took action and that is the power of mobile. It’s a shift away from paying to get someone to look at my brand towards the delivery of a utility and a service as a way for people to get to know my brand.”

So how much creativity is there in mobile, right now? The consensus seems to be, not an awful lot. At the same time, those closest to the coal face argue that there is plenty of scope to be creative on mobile with 360 video, AR, VR, touch and all those other native capabilities. But the good stuff, they say, tends to get lost in a sea of mundane, performance-driven banner campaigns where clickthrough rates of a fraction of one per cent are hailed as a success. But as Celtra’s Klanjsek says, the industry has to change, and given the rapid rise of ad blocking, that change needs to happen fast. Going forward, creativity on mobile is not something agencies and advertisers should just aspire to. Arguably, it’s essential for the mobile advertising business to survive.

This article first appeared in the June 2016 print edition of Mobile Marketing. You can read the whole issue here.