2 Lies and 2 Truths about Made-for-Mobile Content

This blog post stemmed from recent discussions with my friend and colleague Phil Mattia, APAC Head of Mobile for Brand Solutions. Phil lives and breathes mobile, he knows our mobile technologies at Google and what they can do for marketers, he looks at performance metrics on a daily basis and understands what works and what doesn’t, and collaborates with the product team to continue innovating Google’s mobile offering for advertisers. He is as passionate about mobile as much as I am about content, and we love to discuss how the two can come together in powerful experiences for users and platforms for advertisers. When I ask Phil about his thoughts on made-for-mobile content, he smiles at me and starts tugging at his beard, knowing he’s in for an engaging discussion. What follows is a short summary of our exchange of ideas, drawings on flip-charts, and a few cups of coffee.


We are in a period of great experimentation. As people engage with content on mobile in different ways from other screens, creatives and marketers are playing with digital platforms to decode the golden rules of engagement. One question I get more and more often is: what are the best practices for content creation on mobile? The inconvenient truth at this stage is that nobody knows. Most of the progress done so far has been about going from unconscious arrogance to conscious ignorance. The quest for real answers is starting now.

Let’s take a step back. Obviously, a massive shift is happening silently. In the last month alone, at Google we announced several important mobile-centric innovations for YouTube. June 22nd: 360 degrees videos are now available on TrueView ads (WSJ article here). July 22nd: the YouTube app will start showing vertical videos in full screen (article here). And just a few days ago at VidCon, Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, announced a mobile redesign of the entire platform (article here) and clearly said that mobile is YouTube’s top priority: “We’re focused on top three priorities: mobile, mobile, and mobile”.

But what does this all mean for marketers? Here come the experiments I was talking about. For example, the Art, Copy & Code team at Google recently started Unskippable Labs, an initiative aiming at finding best practices for how video advertising should evolve for mobile. The first experiment from Unskippable Labs with BBDO NY, OMD and the brand Mountain Dew uncovered some interesting findings. While the industry is still quite far away from decoding proven best practices for mobile, all this experimentation is pointing at some initial learnings which sometimes contradict what we thought we knew… So here you have 2 lies and 2 truths about made-for-mobile content.

Lie #1: Mobile is all about short-form

People on mobile generally have many distractions around them, they keep their thumb right on the skip icon, and therefore they don’t have patience to engage with storytelling. Respectively true, true, and false. Many brands have been producing long-form video ads, and in many cases they have seen higher engagement on mobile than on desktop. As an example, look at the different versions of the Mountain Dew ad used by the Unskippable Labs team. The first version is the standard 30s ad, and the third one is a 1m 33s ‘pure fun’ version (both below).

Looking at performance metrics for the different cuts, the view-through-rate on mobile (% of viewers who watch the ad for at least 30s) was 26% higher for the ‘pure fun’ version than for the standard 30s ad. Even more interestingly, mobile users exposed to the ‘pure fun’ version also watched it for longer, with an average of 1m 9s. The key take-away: mobile is not necessarily about being quicker; long-form ads can work very well.

Lie #2: Make the best of the first few seconds by showing your brand

While not completely a lie, this is more a misleading simplification. Many advertisers have been obsessed by ensuring strong branding in their video ads. In fact, ensuring brand presence in the first five seconds has almost become religion, in order to drive brand metrics also among ‘skippers’. While this might be logical, it’s less black and white than it might seem. As shown in the Mountain Dew case study, long form ads with more subtle (even barely visible) elements of branding can have the same impact on brand awareness than ads of standard 30s length with much more prominent branding. In short, the emerging evidence is that jamming the brand early in the ad, even before viewers have a chance to skip, might be the easiest but not the most effective solution to drive brand metrics.

Truth #1: Give viewers what they are looking for

So why does the ‘pure fun’ version work better in the Mountain Dew experiment? Certainly, humor drives an immediate emotional response, and in turn higher viewer engagement, but there’s more to that. Comedy is one of the most watched content categories on YouTube, and the strength of the platform with young audiences makes humor particularly effective as an engagement tool. Basically, fun is what YouTube viewers are looking for. The same could be said for video tutorials, music, gaming, etc, so understanding what your audience wants to watch on YouTube will provide an entire toolkit to engage better. On mobile, some of these tools are particularly powerful: the interactive and social usage patterns of mobile devices also drive content choices. Fun content is highly shareable, and gaming is one of the main user activities on mobile, so these two types of content are particularly effective. Below is a recent example from Benefits Cosmetics Australia of how humor can be used in an effective way.

Truth #2: Be personal, be real

If with TV, brands have to earn the right to enter people’s living rooms, with mobile they have to earn the right to enter the most personal device people have. On mobile, brands can send very personal messages to people, which might instead be perceived as awkward or inappropriate on a bigger, less personal screen. It’s a bit like gaining the ability to whisper into someone’s ear. This is why inspiring content, often related to human truths or sensitive issues (e.g. personal tragedies, discrimination, etc) often drive higher engagement on mobile than they do on bigger screens. An good example of such content is the video ad below from NutriGrain (which is, by the way, an 11m 22s long story, with branding elements only at the top and tail of the video)

In your experience, what kind of content are mobile users better engaging with? Or what do you believe is fundamentally wrong about video ads on mobile? Do leave your comments, and watch this space for more on this topic.


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