Holding Out for a Brand Hero

David Murphy

Chris Bourke, Managing Director of mobile agency Aerodeon, argues that market-leading brands will be the catalyst for mobile advertisings growth

Property prices crashing, stock markets correcting and banks losing
millions; without a doubt we are coming to the end of one of the most
prosperous economic cycles in history. But what triggers such changes
in the economy? Many will assume that government and banks conspire to
create these events, but look more closely and youll see that the
institutions we rely on to protect our financial welfare are at the
mercy of economic phenomena outside of their control. When the price of
a product falls, rational consumers take this as a signal to buy rather
than sell. In the stock market however, a herd instinct takes over
and a sale by some investors triggers further selling by others. And
this herd instinct is not confined to the financial markets -
sociologists witness it in street demonstrations, sporting events and
even everyday decision making.

In the marketing trade press and
blogs, the same questions are posed again and again - when will mobile
advertising grow? When will it deliver on its promise? Is this the
year? We can draw on the science of herd behaviour to help us answer
these questions, and I contend that advertiser spend on new media is
susceptible to the same irrational forces that allow one influential
investor to shift how the masses spend their money on stocks and
shares. Brand leaders within key sectors, be it automotive, finance or
FMCG, are usually conservative and risk averse and they take their time
evaluating the potential of new media. Brand challengers however, dont
have this time luxury, so they tend to default to competing via the
same media in which the brand leader dominates.

Follow the leader
For example, witness the launch of Cillit Bang in 2005; why didnt its owner, Reckitt Benckiser, spend the bulk of its budget on the web rather than place those love 'em or hate em TV adverts? I'm sure that the digital planners would have argued that the target market - 35+ mums - were glued to the web in 2005, and I can almost hear the echo of the planners cries that the web would be a 'no noise' environment in which to compete - meaning that Johnson and Johnson were not spending an awful lot of ad budget there promoting their market-leading Mr Muscle brand. But most of Cillit Bangs media weight was with TV. Why? Probably because Johnson and Johnson spend most of their Mr Muscle media budget on TV. So although the web may have been more cost effective, provided greater cut- through and would have connected in a totally fresh and innovative way with the target market, TV was chosen.
Some cynics would say its because the media buyers get their biggest commissions from TV, but commissions have been replaced by fixed fees and media planners are finding it harder to argue for TV's effectiveness, so this argument is weakening. No, whats driving this is herd instinct; brand managers assume that they have to adopt a particular behaviour because thats what smart brand managers do, and the Mr Muscle brand team must be really smart. They are the market leaders after all.

Herd phenomena
With all of the inherent advantages that mobile advertising offers, and the obstacles to its growth, I firmly believe that the future of this market is at the mercy of herd phenomena. We wont be able to pinpoint when or how it will happen, but somewhere, someone will make a decision that mobile is an important media; and if this someone is in charge of an influential brand, then the challengers will follow. Until this shift happens in their sector, what can advertisers do today? How can they cut across the hype and ensure they are spending to maximise their learning about the most effective ways to use mobile media in their sector?
Mobile media is fast becoming segmented into sub-media, and display-based advertising with banners, and interstitials offers advertisers the easiest way to begin evaluating, as they can plan and buy in ways that they are already familiar with. Other opportunities such as in-game advertising, sponsorship and nascent idle screen advertising throw up new challenges for planners and buyers, as these models require a fresh perspective on metrics and ROI.
Where mobile comes into its own, however, and this is the area that I believe advertisers should invest heavily in to test and evaluate, is as a bridging device between branding and direct marketing. It has always been argued that the web offers this, as online display advertising creates awareness (and even makes search ads more effective!) and web forms and email allow direct contact with vendors. But many consumers of services, especially those over 35, still prefer to buy over the phone. In the financial sector, 50% of consumers still buy insurance policies over the phone. Such consumers want the reassurance that their transaction is been dealt with competently by a real person. So mobile offers great potential to generate awareness, on- and off-portal, and to then activate prospects to contact sales desks directly using their mobile handset. This model applies not only to financial products, but to most service sectors, including travel, utilities, recruitment, and also to big ticket, high consideration purchases such as cars.

Emotional advertising
What about sectors that rely on emotional advertising, such as FMCG and luxury goods manufacturers? Our own studies, in conjunction with Millward Brown, suggest that mobile banner ads substantially lift brand awareness and purchase intent. The idea that only 30-second TV spots on 30-inch screens can create emotional connections with consumers is delusional. We are learning rapidly that the mind is influenced by even the most fleeting brand device, and these exposures, in aggregate, no matter how small or unsophisticated, will resonate with consumers and positively influence how they feel about brands.
There may be many things that need to happen to allow mobile advertising to get out of the starting blocks. With this article appearing in Mobile Marketing Magazine, I feel like Im preaching to the choir, but we all know the usual suspects; more flat rate data, more inventory, better CPM and better tracking. These are all very rational arguments. But all the stock market crashes in history have demonstrated that people are not very rational, so why should we expect the growth of mobile advertising to be immune to irrational forces?
So lets hear it for the irrational brand owner heroes of tomorrow who, through a single decision they will make in an anonymous planning meeting, will be responsible for catalysing the growth of an entirely new digital medium.