More than 70 percent of mobile ads fail to create a positive user experience.


Greg Sterling on December 21, 2016 at 9:55 am


A recent study (reg. req’d) from Forrester Consulting, commissioned by Celtra, argues that $0.55 of every dollar spent on mobile advertising is wasted. Beyond this, negative mobile ad experiences are hurting brand perceptions among consumers.

These types of findings and conclusions aren’t new but they’re worth emphasizing because mobile traffic now dominates the PC, and much of what passes for mobile advertising is a kind of perfunctory conversion of desktop ads. The report doesn’t differentiate between mobile web and in-app ads or explore that issue at all.

The Forrester study was based on two surveys. One polled 100 brand advertisers; the other surveyed 1,000 adult smartphone owners in the US. The digital ad budgets for each of the surveyed companies exceeded $200 million.

Brand advertisers were initially asked about their goals: “What are your company’s primary business objectives for mobile advertising?” The top five responses, in order, were the following:

1. Increasing brand awareness
2. Increasing brand engagement
3. Increasing brand favorability/ sentiment
4. Increasing loyalty
5. Driving customer lifetime value

The report found that “more than 66 percent of brand advertisers believe that at least half of their mobile advertising isn’t successful in achieving their goals.” In addition, the consumer survey found that more than 70 percent (73 percent) of the mobile advertisements seen “in a typical day fail to create a positive user experience.”

The top three consumer complaints about mobile ads were:

1. Ads obscure content (e.g., pop-ups, takeovers)
2. Ads are irrelevant
3. Ads don’t load well

The 55 percent/$0.55 figure is derived from a self-assessment by brands about their mobile campaigns. In other words, brands know that their mobile ads are not working. The consumer data equally reflects the failure of most mobile advertising.

Consumers and brands in the two surveys offered different views of what factors create a “positive mobile ad experience.” Consumers valued less disruption more highly than “relevance,” whereas the two values were in opposite positions with brands.


The preferred mobile ad format, according to this survey, was video:

These consumption habits should have an impact on the ad content that is delivered. In fact, 41% of consumers in the survey reported that video ads are the No. 1 type of ad they would most prefer to see or engage with, and brands recognize this as well.

The report recommends minimizing disruptive ad formats, a greater focus on video ads and investing more in developing mobile ad creative. It also suggests more “real-time and contextual” targeting in addition to demographic/audience targeting.

While it certainly can be compelling, video advertising is not a panacea for mobile ad challenges. In addition, the report’s recommendation that marketers invest more in “real-time” targeting is also not a solution, though it might be effective in some circumstances. I agree with the advice to give more attention and energy to mobile ad creative.

Mobile campaigns need to be more thoughtfully conceived and executed. The “press the button” mentality that pervades digital marketing, as reflected in this study and others, is clearly failing both consumers and marketers.