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When is an ad not an ad?

July 24, 2013

Gary Elphick

Gary Elphick

By Gary Elphick

This is not cryptic adland talk but rather a question to provoke your thoughts on what you like and hate about advertising and, especially, about mobile ads.

Love/hate relationship
Chances are what you like about traditional advertising is the jingles and the short-form entertainment, and what you hate is being distracted away from watching your favorite program or listening to your favorite songs.

Your feelings above are valid and what is more, they are multiplied on mobile.

Mobile users have less screen to give up and are scared to hell of your popup because not only are they annoying as they are on desktop but I have less flexibility to get rid of them. God forbid they pop up over a game of Angry Birds whilst it carries on playing in the background, and just as I am getting to level 99 …. Grrr!

There are other struggles as well. If I am on my mobile phone, chances are that I am in a 3/5/10-minute window, meaning time is of the essence – if I am going to reach level 100.

Add that to multitude of screen sizes and file requirements (Apple = no flash) means you will need to create a number of different mobile banners if that is the route you choose to go down.

Rant over.

There is light at the end of the tunnel and I am pleased to see both traditional marketers as well as those in mobile are really harnessing the power of “an ad not as an ad”:

Mobile search
This may appear to marketers as a typical ad, but the trick is, it does not appear to the end user as an ad if it is relevant to what she is looking for and it is helpful.

To quote an old Google stat, “70 percent of mobile searched end in an action (visit to a store, purchase, download, etc.), with 50 percent ending in a purchase with one hour.”

Short-form content
We have seen the likes of Vine grow in popularity because of its short-form content, something I can dip in and out of in that 3/5/10-minute window and feel sufficiently entertained.

Mobile utility
A number of advertisers have thought about how they can be less interruptive and more helpful. This has the same end-effect they hope to get from advertising – make you feel better about that brand – without being distracted from what you are trying to do. In fact, the brand is the facilitator of your doing that better or faster.

Promoted discovery
Finally one of my favorite ad products I am seeing the rise of is the third-party product review in ad units on news sites. It is the “Recommend” articles you see at the bottom of the page.

There are a couple of companies helping facilitate this, notably Outbrain and Mashable’s “lift” product.

This means putting content out there that shows your product or service in a positive light or as superior to your competitors in an organic way much like a blogger would, being that it sits as an integral part of the user is already doing. It transverses all screens, is on the most part entertaining and best of all its non-interruptive.

Gary Elphick is founder of near field communication marketing agency Swipe Mobile, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Reach him at

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