Putting Mobile Up Front

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Laurie Keith
Laurie Keith



MediaUpfront Photo

At the Ad Council, we’ve begun to utilize mobile and tablet advertising for some of our nonprofit causes, so I was excited to attend Mobile Media Upfront and learn about this relatively new platform and what it could mean for social good. After the day was complete, my overall feeling was that mobile advertising is a big part of our future, and there is no turning back.

Mobile on the Rise

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), by the end of 2013 there will be 181.4 million U.S. smartphone users — around 57.3 percent of the population. By 2017, that number is expected to rise to 67.8 percent. Within the first 15 minutes of waking up, 4 out of 5 smartphone owners are checking their phones, and among these people, nearly 80 percent reach for their phone before doing anything else. Only 16 percent of mobile time is spent actually talking on the phone, while 84 percent of people use their smartphone to communicate via text, email and social media. As smartphone usage grows, Americans will become more and more reliant on their phones. This presents a remarkable opportunity for marketers.

Due to advances in smartphone technology, marketers can now reach people at specific locations and serve different messages based on their behaviors. However, there are still a lot of what-ifs. Of course, the user’s phone must be turned on, and some apps only work when you have a Wi-Fi connection. And then there is the “coercion” factor. If a user is asked to complete a brand survey with the incentive of receiving a free mobile app, then the user is likely to take the survey just so he or she can get the app.

Location-Based Best Practices

One panel called “The Machines are Taking Over” highlighted the best practices of location-based mobile advertising. Senior mobile executives stressed the importance of testing specific retail locations first, such as observing the actions and behaviors of the mobile users at these locations. What messages did they find relevant, and what messages did they ignore? Did the advertising result in a purchase?

Panelists talked about serving the right ad, at the right place and at the right time. If it’s 90 degrees out and a brand knows that I’ve purchased its iced tea before and am walking past a store that sells its brand, it might be the perfect time to serve me an ad for that product to my phone. Panelists also talked about the importance of being transparent by allowing users to opt out of push notifications and the ability to locate you. In order for users to engage with a brand, companies need to serve mobile advertising messages that are relevant and add value to their lives.

Using Mobile for Good

starbucks app

Given my position at the Ad Council, I kept thinking about how we could use this mobile technology to make a difference. Most Americans value PSA messaging, and when there is a significant issue affecting our country, they want to help. Right now, there is an incredible opportunity for marketers and retailers to build nonprofit causes into their mobile apps. Starbucks is currently doing an amazing job at this. After devastating tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma last month, Starbucks sent a message to their mobile app users encouraging people to help and give to those in need. As an incentive for donating, users received a free coffee.

The key for marketers is to determine which companies have mobile apps that align with a specific cause. It’s easy to garner donations but what about a harder call-to-action such as “stop bullying”? This is where strategic thinking must be implemented. Since bullying happens mostly at school, maybe there is a department store that could build a message into its mobile app encouraging parents to talk to their kids during the back-to-school season?


A new mobile app I love is DailySpank. Each day, users are given a fun, creative photo assignment such as “Take a photo of what it’s like to be YOU,” or “Take a photo of something that starts with S.” When people like a picture, they give it a “spank.” DailySpank just started experimenting with brand partnerships by creating a competition among users. For example, whoever receives the most spanks on Friday receives a free photo book of all their DailySpank photos from Bob’s Books. I hope DailySpank will eventually partner with charities and create a photo challenge related to volunteering. Whoever gets the most spanks could win an opportunity to meet the leaders behind a philanthropy he or she is passionate about.

If we can get mobile apps to incorporate mission-driven advertising into their apps, then we’re moving in the right direction. The mobile marketing opportunities will continue to grow as mobile technology continues to advance and people continue using their phones as mini computers. I’m excited to explore these new opportunities with our partners and hopefully make a significant impact for the causes we represent.

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