Mobile ads have always been a bit crap and everyone likes the idea that they might work because everyone has a phone and personalised data and measurability, it would all be so wonderful.
The reality is that trying to do something amazing on a 50px postage stamp with screens that change size all the time and the whole Steve Jobs anti-Flash Apple thing has resulted in some pretty terrible mobile ads. Have you seen people at a conference stand up and present on how amazing their Leaderboard ads are? No. Because they are crap and nobody cares.
Then, some smarty brains people like King (makers of Candy Crush) bolted ahead of everyone else and sold imaginary wands and extra lives to people in a game where you bop little coloured balls and everyone went nuts for it and they made heaps of money. So then people realised that people can interact with things on little screens and not in Flash, you just have to think about it a bit differently.
I know this all might sound a bit basic to some of you but I kid you not, I went to a catalogue launch for an AU/NZ retailer and the whole thing was in Flash. Someone at their expensive agency probably took the print pdfs and went into Adobe InDesign File>Export>Flash Player SWF, yep that’s all they had done and that sort of thing really annoys me so the more you can understand and question the approach, the better result you’ll get.
So users wanted rich designs that made the most of their zillion dollar mobile phone screens like they saw in games and responsive design and HTML5 meant that that could happen which is great and sort of where we are today.
Publishers and ad tech companies are cranking out lots of new mobile ad formats that are more responsive -change to suit what device the user is viewing on -Boston Globe is an example that Adobe often use so grab your neighbours phone and watch the copy and ads moving around as it adjusts to the device. If you all work for the same company and have the same phone then have a play with some online emulators like Mobile Test and Mobile Phone Emulator
Facebook claim to have nailed some new formats that have started serving through their Atlas network. I tried to get a new fancy ad come up on Shazam but all I got was this old-school Leaderboard that isn't worth talking about at a conference but the one they have in their post is quite cool and I’ll just keep tagging songs until I get it.
In saying that, the audience generation part might be interesting because it’s meant to be serving ads off what books I’ve read in Facebook— ‘Atlas, send her the boring version of the Vodafone ad’
Google Admob network have also released some new formats that seem heavily influenced by YouTube’s successful TrueView format where a little video trailer plays and advertisers only get charged when a user doesn’t hit the skip ad button. There are also some screen takeovers that mimic a print magazine ads so your designers will be happy about that. With the trend towards larger phone and tablet screens perhaps the whole digital magazine/catalogue thing might finally start kicking in with some decent revenues?
As evidenced by my boring Vodafone ad (sorry Vodafone but I am writing a blog post about it so tell your manager your ad was amplified and created conversations= earned media :)) and the success of mobile games apps we can see that Creative is a thing and using the formats properly is going to take some skills but I think a good place to start is to start paying attention to formats you like and copy them. Evernote web clipper is a useful browser tool you can use or just screenshot ads on your phone and look at sites like mobile-patterns.com for ideas about how you could integrate ad formats better into your apps and mobile pages.
I wouldn’t even worry too much about how much you are paying for mobile ads at the moment - I know that sounds a bit wrong but get the formats working properly and think more about what you could potentially do with them because it’s all going to be a bit made-up at the start until the formats settle down and the audiences improve through the networks. Have a go at a video trailer in app mobile ad thing and an in-app Facebook Atlas thing and in the very least, you’ll learn something and have a place to start improving from and it will all be wonderful.