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Playing for attention

Gilbert Ross explains how app-vertising is taking the art of persuasion to a new level.

If you thought that the mobile marketing industry is not yet ripe enough for you to dip a slice of your advertising budget into it, allow me to fire some quick statistics that will invite some second thoughts.

The gamification of mobile marketing campaigns is a very effective way for brands to engage and interact with customers
- Gilbert Ross

There are 1.2 billion mobile web users worldwide and mobile devices account for 8.49 per cent of global website hits. That percentage is rolling up as I write. Today in the US and Western Europe, 90 per cent of mobile subscribers have an internet-ready phone.

The most astounding fact is mobile internet penetration. Mobile broadband subscriptions today outnumber fixed broadband subscriptions by two is to one.

On the other hand, mobile web usage is still lagging behind but is expected to exceed desktop web usage before 2015, as tariffs go down and unlimited data plans start spreading in popularity from Asia to the US and Europe.

To add a financial dimension to these statistics, advertising spent in the mobile platform was estimated to be US$3.3 billion (€2.5 billion in 2011 and is forecasted to skyrocket to $20.6 billion (€15.5 billion) in 2015. Not bad at all.

Yet with all the high-tech mobile gizmos available, the fact is that text messaging remains the hottest activity in the mobile world today – eight trillion text messages were sent last year.

But don’t be deceived too quickly. Users are embracing mobile web and e-mail, instant messaging and MMS very rapidly. Mobile web advertising is white-hot both in terms of spending and revenue. Google’s gross annual revenue from mobile advertising alone is over €1.8 billion per year.

Moreover, mobile web searches have quadrupled during 2011 and – marketing people please take note – 71 per cent of smartphone users do a mobile search after watching a TV, press or online advert.

The landscape is continuously shifting as seasons change quickly in one mobile marketing year.

With one million apps released until last December, there is a fast-growing interest in using mobile apps as a marketing platform. In-app advertising or app-vertising – the latest name of the game – some app developers on both Android and iOS platforms are reaping six-figure profits a month from in app-advertising alone.

Angry Birds, the game that topped the charts for months on both the iTunes store and Android app market, is credited for having set the trend for the app-vertising business model.

Basically Angry Birds is offered in two versions – a free version and a premium ad-free version. The free version naturally comes with streaming adverts throughout the game.

Its developers are cashing in over a million US dollars a month from this app-vertising model just by offering advert impressions within the game, which to date has been downloaded more than seven hundred million times.

The quest is now to step away from disruptive advert serving in mobile apps and blend in adverts with content in an increasingly seamless fashion.

This is no small feat – however, a few big brands have already been doing this for quite some time. For example, Adidas has an app on the iTunes store called Adidas Urban Art Guide, which is practically a walking guide to Berlin’s street art using Microsoft Virtual Earth for route planning, rich photo galleries, information guides and more. It’s how the company can communicate its brand through giving something of value for free. Levis has the Dockers’ shakable advert for iPhone – this shows a man wearing Dockers pants who breakdances every time you shake the device.

Others have been cleverly tackling the issue from another angle – using game dynamics to entice people to their marketing campaign. What does this mean? When you deconstruct the psychology and mechanics behind good gaming, you find simple common features, such as levels of play with increasing challenges or a reward system in the form of points or access to special tools or features in the game and feedback on your progress. These ideas are being gradually integrated into mobile marketing campaigns.

In its crudest form it can be a customer who bought a six-pack of beer and text messaged the coupon number to enter a sweepstake competition. In more sophisticated forms it can be a multi-player online role playing a game in which players have to solve puzzles or progress through different challenges as they gain status, virtual goods or rewards – these can then be redeemed into real world goodies such as product discounts or access to exclusive brand offers.

The gamification of mobile marketing campaigns is a very effective way for brands to engage and interact with customers in a non-disruptive and exciting way. The brand message is not forced on you – rather, it becomes an integral part of the activity or the entertainment itself.

Mobile marketing will be making greater use of rich media formats such as video, games, interactive maps together with consumer targeting through deep customer segmentation and local-based services.

There are also interesting avenues for this gamification phenomenon beyond commercial applications such as education or global issues. I’m a big fan of Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future. As a game designer, McGonigal has been focusing her work on developing MMORPGs such as World Without Oil or Superstruct where gamers solve real world problems like world hunger or energy crisis in virtual environments.

With over three billion hours a week – and growing – collectively spent playing games online we can definitely put that human capital to good use.

Gilbert Ross is a freelance internet marketing specialist. Follow his Google+ page at http://gplus.to/Webimize .

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