Why Mobile And Social Ads Are So Disruptive

It’s easy to hate advertising. It’s mostly unsolicited and it’s everywhere we go. So it’s no surprise that people really hate ads in social media and on mobile devices.

This week, eMarketer reported on a survey commissioned by AdAge and conducted by Ipsos Observer, and findings did not bode well for digital advertisers. Overall, users dislike website ads almost as much as they dislike ads on social networks, and they really dislike.

So why is it that some ads are more acceptable than others? Why are we more okay with ads in print and on television than in digital form. Well, the answer is probably part nature, part nurture, and part context.

Why We Hate Advertising

Our aversion to advertising has to do with free will. Essentially, unsolicited sales messages vie for a piece of our mind share. They intrude on our thought processes and try to govern what we think about, and to that extent, try to subvert our free will.

It’s the difference between sales clerk and a door-to-door peddler. I’m more likely to find an in-store salesman helpful than offensive because I chose to walk into the store, so I’m probably interested in making a purchase, and the sales clerk’s knowledge about in-stock products can help me make a better purchasing decision. The door-to-door salesman, however, is unwelcome because s/he was uninvited — they are intruding on my space and interrupting my day to peddle something I’m not actively interested in.

Why, When, and Where We Tolerate Ads

This, of course, begs the question: why were survey respondents so much more likely to tolerate print, television, and outdoor advertising than they were radio or various forms digital forms. Well, this is where nurture and context come into play.

For starters, in some cases, we grew up with advertising being bundled with the media. Most people cannot remember a time before print and television advertising. Advertising is an inherent part of each of these media experiences.

With digital channels, however, we can actually remember a time before ads. Not only do some of us remember a mostly ad-free net, but most of us remember when our favorite services were free of advertising — such as Facebook a few years ago and Twitter until recently. As a result, the expectations we have about of our web, email, and social media experiences are relatively altruistic compared to other media.

More importantly, each media has particular peculiarities that make it more or less compatible with advertising. And the less compatible it is, the more that ads disrupt the end user’s media experience.

Mobile: The problem with mobile advertising is the very reason why marketers get so excited about it: mobile phones are a very personal thing that we take with us everywhere we go and interact with us constantly. As much as mobile allows us to geo-target users with nearby offers every time they search or check-in somewhere, they go beyond mind share and intrude on users’ actual physical space. This means mobile ads are worse than an unsolicited door-to-door sales call. They’re like having that salesmen follow you around all day.

Social Media: As much social graph info is valuable for profiling a user and targeting them only with offers they might be interested in, social advertisers often overlook one critical aspect: we log onto social networks to socialize, not to buy. With social media, anything that disrupts the socializing experience only creates friction. For instance, Facebook ads perform only half as well as regular banner ads.

Email: Here we have a very personal, private space. Our inboxes are things that we guard very carefully. They’re where we have personal, one-on-one interactions with other people, and they are places where we store valuable secrets — like usernames and passwords to other online services. Of course, we don’t want to feel like there’s a salesman lurking in our inbox.

Websites: There are two space limitations to a web page. First, like print, there is the overall real estate on the page — i.e. what’s taken up by content, sidebars, navigation menus, and ads. Then, unlike print, there are the limitations imposed by our screen. We can only see so much of that limited real estate at a time, so ads intrude on our field of vision in a much more salient way. As much as we might be banner blind and not notice what the ad is for, we do notice that an ad was there, getting in the way of our content consumption.

Radio: What’s interesting about radio is that it’s a medium that, like print and TV, grew up with advertising, but we still find radio ads more unbearable than tolerable. This is because radio is a one-dimensional medium. There are no pictures or colors. There is only sound. So most radio advertising is a lot like some stranger on the street leaning in to your ear to tell you why you should buy something from them. Beside, most listeners tune in for music, and the ads are probably the biggest annoyance.


Credit: Pink Ponk

Print: There are two aspects of print advertising that make it more tolerable: First, it doesn’t disrupt the consumption of actual print content; you can always skip over ads, turn to the next page, or ignore them altogether. Second, in many lifestyle publications, they actually complement the content — e.g. I have friends who read fashion magazines more for the ads than anything else.

Television: Here we have a medium that’s been completely packaged around advertising, so the viewer’s overall experience is barely disrupted. First, original programming is written and edited around commercial breaks. Story lines tend to arc in a way so that we stay tuned to see what happens after the commercial break. This makes the commercials part and parcel of the excitement we experience through a show’s plot. Besides, even if we leave the room during the breaks, commercials are sufficiently louder than the programming that they might still manage to capture some of our mind share.

Out of Home: Outdoor advertising is bearable very much in the same way that print advertising there. It’s there, in our face, polluting the landscape, but it’s easy to ignore.

Marketing Beyond Advertising

Let’s face it, if every user/viewer/listener/reader had a choice, we’d live in an ad-free world. But ads exist because publishers and broadcasters need to pay their bills.

Besides, many of the media where ads are less than welcome are still their nascent stages. We can still remember when these channels were ad-free, but it won’t be long before those days are going to seem like a lifetime ago.

Mobile and social are still the media that they are, and ads are never really going to deliver the return that marketers need to justify their investment. Rather, mobile and social marketing are going to be driven by other tactics, such as content and opt-in notifications. Indeed, it’s the targeting options available through mobile and social that make these other marketing channels so promising.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at Revenews.com, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

6 Responses to Why Mobile And Social Ads Are So Disruptive

  1. Simon Abramovitch says:

    I'm curious to see how the mobile device as opt-in sales tool can be enough of a revenue generator to make pushing messages less of an issue. Being able to say "tell me everything on special within a 5 minute walk from me" would ideally be enough.

    Speaking of mobile, the fact that I'm getting ads on a tiny screen bothers me in principle.

    I think your explanation of why we tolerate TV ads is great, but I wonder about the future, and the impatience the web is fostering. I proudly do NOT use adblock online, because I think the little guy wanting to justify the time he puts into a new, interesting, and useful project could use a few bucks for his trouble on a web that wants everything for free. But that said, I actually have trouble watching TV these days because of the ads. I left TV for a while, and coming back to it, the commercials drive me crazy (especially since I stay up late and late night commercials are the most depressing). I personally find it much easier to deal with ignoring some banners than strings of repeated, unfunny, attention monopolizing, more (to me) society-destroying TV ads. Although, the latest Google Ads trend of showing the same company again and again just because I visited the site once is starting to up my web ad irritation to competing levels…

  2. jeffmolander says:

    Insight after insight. Great work, CT. Practical, useful.

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