Despite Better Performance, Mobile Ads Considered Just a Notch Above Spam

Mobile advertising is typically quite a bit more effective than comparable ads on the PC. Indeed, the data show that mobile search and display consistently outperform their PC counterparts. Yet mobile ads (especially display and SMS) are viewed with skepticism and distrust and rank near the bottom of all ad categories in consumer surveys.

This is something of a paradox to say the least. For example, Marin Software's Q3 aggregated client data report indicates the following about the relative performance (CTRs) of paid search ads on the PC, smartphones and tablets:

  • PCs: 2.35%
  • Tablets: 3.22%
  • Smartphones: 5.07% 

You might be quick to respond that smartphone click-through rates could be attributable to the so-called "fat finger" problem thus distorting their true performance. This problem -- and we can debate the extent of its reality -- doesn't really exist in a paid-search context.

These clicks are from intent-based queries and thus more inclined be "real" and reflective of a buying intent. In a display context an unintended click may be somewhat more likely. However mobile display outperforms PC display advertising across the board and consistently across studies. 

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According to 2011 Nielsen US consumer advertising-trust survey data (above), personal recommendations and traditional media ads are near the top and mobile ads are the least trusted of all the major ad categories. 

A more recent Millward Brown consumer survey (Q3 2012) found much the same thing. Mobile ads were at the bottom of favorability rankings among all ad types. The list below just shows digital categories: 

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There's no easy way to explain the apparent contradiction between negative consumer attitudes toward mobile ads and their otherwise superior performance to categories more trusted or ranked more highly.