A view from Dominic Proctor

Why it's time to mobilise at Advertising Week Europe

Brands must look beyond apps and focus on high quality and varied mobile advertising, says the global president of Group M.

As well as being ready to debate and celebrate our industry at Advertising Week Europe, we must all be contemplating how much advertising has changed and be questioning the opportunities and challenges represented by our increasing mobilisation.

According to a recent IDC study, more than two billion people currently access the web on mobile or portable devices. While the UK and US markets are saturated, usage continues to grow. Google's mobile search business has accelerated and reportedly, Amazon’s sales growth has consistently exceeded the online sales rate across Europe. All consumer innovation and new technology will orbit mobile – if it doesn’t already (think everything from Uber to Fitbit). And the number of "mobile dependents" is set to rise in developed countries and even more rapidly in emerging markets, so mobile strategies are key for marketing at home in Europe and abroad.

Mobility is fuelling the age of the consumer, and with increasing connectivity from Kenya to Chile, it can be an engine for freedom and prosperity. Most consumers, especially those born in the mobile era, understand that the free mobile content and services they enjoy come in exchange for the right for brands to deliver messages – the right to advertise. Done correctly, this is a fair value exchange.

But it can only be seen as a value exchange if advertisers treat it as a privilege, not a right. In fact, ad avoidance and then ad blocking, two of the biggest challenges advertisers face today, are arguably direct results of treating advertising as a right and not a privilege.

The best experience wins

Counterintuitively, the sheer scale of mobile – in users and consumption – encourages irresponsible advertising. Yet, this behaviour harms the value exchange between consumers and advertisers.

Increasing mobility should instead demand higher standards in advertising and marketing in an effort to increase user convenience. The potential benefits are too hard for organisations to ignore.

Much mobile use is static and it appears to be replacing the PC. The PC, however, came before the internet. Mobile came after and serves the web much better because it bundles functions like touch-screens, geolocation, camera, voice and sound, which serves to fuel mobile's high-frequency, brief and transactional use. Therefore, the brands that offer the best customer experiences for these "mobile moments" win.

We already see advertisers hoping to address this in the short term with quicker creative impact.

While the "quicker" is being addressed through data and technology, the "creative impact" isn’t as common, or is left by the wayside. Longer term, as mobile technology comes to dominate, brand communications will have to do a better job understanding and investing in content and rights.

Harking back to my days as CEO of a creative agency, our barometer for the effectiveness of creative then was the impact on a billboard. If the campaign worked in a few words with great visual impact on a billboard, it could extend and work in other more flexible and longer form mediums. "Show me the billboard," was the demand to creatives then; today, it must be "show me the mobile ad." By bringing the creativity back to advertising in mobile with tailored content featuring high quality and variety, brands can tilt the value exchange between consumers and advertisers back in their favour.

App immunity?

Although apps have a form of "immunity" to ad-blocking (for the moment), focusing on this is the same narrow thinking of treating advertising as a right. A hallmark of this view is the belief that audience measurement is mobile's most important issue. It is of course very important, but an equally important big question should be how advertising finds a place in the simplified mobile app landscape.

There are too many apps. This is inconvenient. The competitive focus is therefore shifting away from pushing app products and towards service. We see this in the trend for app integration (accessing one service from another) and in the rise of notification and messaging.

The Google Now chief, Aparna Chennapragada, summarises how notification services hope to filter the world: "In a world where everyone's talking, you need selective listening… you want the information to find you, not you to find the information."

Advertisers must adapt by looking beyond the short sighted thinking of trying to capitalise on apps’ inability to block ads.

Know your place

Facebook and Google are among the first to admit the size of the task ahead. Deep data interpretation is very expensive. Humans often behave irrationally, or rationally in ways it is not our business to know. While the journey to advertising being welcomed by consumers is a long one, data and technology can help us arrive there quicker. An important part of this is the independent data "spine" – anonymous user portraits which allow us to see the whole user profile, not just the part which "walled gardens" invite us to rely on via access they control absolutely.

Unilever envisions a "personal information economy" emerging alongside more rigorous protection of privacy. This would reward users for letting us use their information, helping restore trust between advertiser and audience and implicitly turn blocking into acceptance. It would also diversify sources of data, reducing dependence on walled-garden monopolies, and expanding the "gene pool" for conjoining data where the most value resides.

Until we know our advertising is welcome, we remain aware of our limitations. The path to purchase is a useful idea, but it’s more difficult to predict in the mobile era and almost never linear. And trying to solve mobile with "over-targeting" can be even worse than no targeting, because it alienates real prospects. An old hazard of market research is knowing more and more about less and less. This discourages invention and evangelism; businesses don’t grow by marketing the same thing to the same people all the time.

Don't think of 10 per cent improvements. Focusing on what’s best for the consumer is always the winning proposition. To advertise is to wave at some, but on mobile, you’re also shaking their hand.

Dominic Proctor is the global president of Group M.