Competing Narratives: Mobile Ads Outperform PC vs. Mobile Clicks Are Bogus

There are now competing mobile advertising narratives that directly contradict each other. First, there's the widely supported meme: "mobile ads perform better than PC." Accordingly, there are numerous data sources showing higher CTRs and conversions from mobile vs. PC-based advertising.

Most recently data from the xAd-Telmetrics-Nielsen “Mobile Path to Purchase” study documented very high conversion rates in several verticals -- around 50% or higher in restaurants, autos and travel as the graphic below illustrates. 

Source: xAd-Telmetrics-Nielsen (8/12), n=1,500 US adults

On the other hand there are now a few surveys or studies that argue a substantial number of mobile ad clicks are unintended. For example, in January 2011, Harris Interactive (on behalf of Pontiflex) issued survey findings arguing that nearly 50% of mobile clicks were unintended: "47% of mobile app users say they click/tap on mobile ads more often by mistake than they do on purpose." 

Earlier this week came in some ways a more startling claim, based on an analysis of 6 million mobile ad clicks across 10 mobile ad networks by app marketing company Trademob. The company argued 40% of mobile ad clicks were entirely wasted: either accidental or fraudulent. The company's methodology and conclusions are detailed in a white paper (via registration).

Screen Shot 2012-09-06 at 1.59.41 PM

Source: Trademob (9/12); based on analysis of 6 million mobile ad clicks

If one assumes that the Pontiflex survey and Trademob analysis can be generalized, together they argue that nearly half of all mobile ad clicks are completely wasted or worse. Trademob doesn't really discuss the other 60% of clicks that are supposedly not accidental or fraudulent. Are those converting? Are they not wasted?

A 60% conversion rate would be dramatically better than anything happening online. I'm sure, however, the remaining 60% of clicks do not represent conversions in the Trademob study. They're simply presented as "regular" clicks, with no data about conversions. 

How is it possible to reconcile the two competing narratives and sets of data? The weight of data support the idea that mobile clicks and conversions are greater than on the PC. However that might still be reconciled with the mistaken/accidental CTR argument.

The real problem with the Trademob study, however, is that it may reinforce complacency.

Most marketers are well behind consumers when it comes to mobile adoption and usage. Some CMO reading coverage of the Trademob study might well conclude that -- just as he suspected -- mobile isn't quite "ready for prime time." That would create further delay and discourage mobile investment, resulting in lost opportunity for the company. 

There are myriad ways to control for and protect against false or accidental clicks. Advertisers can protect themselves by paying on a CPA or PPCall basis for mobile leads or conversions. But they can also do call tracking and use other methods to minimize false clicks. 

Regardless, it would be a serious mistake to take this Trademob survey as definitive or reflective of all mobile ad campaigns.