How Do We Build Innovative Digital Creative for Mobile?

The future of creative for mobile is not about slapping an ad over something else.

If you want to understand the state of mobile creative, consider what the industry was like for desktop back in 1999. We barely had a handle on anything we were doing, there were no real standards and we were mostly just building stuff — making whatever publishers wanted. Now here we are, creative professionals in 2017, still building mobile creative along these same lines. And that’s not a good thing.

Think about it. We’re developing overlays; we’re hoping someone clicks on them so we can send users off to microsites or someplace else. We’re constructing whole-screen takeovers. We’re packing our hopes for capturing user attention into intrusive special effects and context-blind dazzle. In the end, it’s all too much and it just doesn’t hit the mark.

The future of creative for mobile is not about slapping an ad over something else and treating the user’s screen like a platform — or, worse, a launch pad — for whatever technology can achieve. The future is about creative design that partners with technology to augment user activities and draw consumers close. For marketing-tech innovators, the time is now to bring new focus and new ideas to our work. Early-generation mobile ads have earned early wins for our industry, but they won’t do that job forever.

In the sections that follow, let’s look at what innovative creative can mean, in terms of data- and tech-driven design, and let’s address the kinds of teams we should be forming around our work. It will take new approaches to mobile ads if we’re going to reach the future we’re talking about, and we’ll only get there with technology on our side.

Meaningful Moments: Context + User Experience + Design

As almost anyone will tell you, data is key to mobile-marketing campaigns that succeed, ones that identify the how, where, and when of user behaviors. And while data is important, data’s impact is not the entire story. Meaning, technology and marketing-technology tend to focus on just the back-end details. At the same time, the creative guys have often been focusing on just the front-end look.

In these ways, both are losing out. Creative isn’t getting enough deep behavioral and location-based insights. The tech side is missing chances to deliver next-generation ideas … and brands are paying a ton of money for all this, by the way.

How do we avoid losing out? How do we build innovative creative for mobile? First, we return to the consumer’s point of view. Let them use their fingers. Let them use their minds. Let them make choices.

For example, we know mobile users turn to Google Maps and Apple Maps billions of times every week. And so, when bringing a map into creative, why default to a static format? If consumers expect to see a pulsating blue dot, one that shows them in data-driven real-time a location on a map relative to their position, then we need to create opportunities within that moment, with ads that enhance users’ understanding of what’s around them. If data tells us a business-consumer segment often visits a certain area after work hours, our new blue dot of the future can suggest where to go for a post-meeting meal or drink. Couple that with special offers and now you’re talking meaningful creative. Creative that dovetails with ways our user already approaches the mobile interface.

User engagement can happen in other ways, too. It can be as basic as addressing realities such as banner blindness, and then rethinking how we deploy even the most familiar units of display.

  • Say you have a 320×50-pixel banner that resides at the bottom of a mobile screen, but, instead of your typical Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) format that might animate, imagine the creative as flipping up to 300×250 when the user scrolls up the page.
  • The expanded unit — activating only when the user scrolls — now lives in this new state and position for six seconds before collapsing back down to its original size.
  • This new banner format drives attention and focus not when the user is in the middle of reading or watching content, but when they’re actually moving from one part of their experience to another, when they’re between moments of focused attention. We’re intersecting with the consumer instead of denying them underlying content; that’s a major difference, going forward, between positive and negative creative for mobile.

Our mission must include a commitment to growing as creative professionals alongside the technology that delivers our designs, to grow with the experts who are figuring out new ways to put creative on mobile screens. Teach your technology counterparts the value of great design and the importance of innovative creative to the root-level choices developers make. Join a shop that values that kind of interplay, that critical kind of exchange.

Creative as a way to amplify user moments in a given situation: we need to think deeply about this as we build the future of mobile-ad design. If we’re serious about creative’s mobile future, and we’re serious about being in a leadership role as we build toward it, then it’s time to seek out technology partners and align creative with the insights data and analytics can unlock.

As Vice President and Creative Director at Verve, Walter Geer is responsible for creating compelling mobile advertising experiences that re-invent and revitalize the way brands and advertisers connect with consumers through transformative mobile technology.

This article appeared in the Frost & Sullivan New Product Innovation & Development quarterly newsletter.

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