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The first in a series of savvy marketer guides, brought to you by The Drum and MoPub, looks at how brands can finally connect mobile ad investment with the time people spend on their devices.

The investment in mobile, while growing comfortably over the past decade, has never managed to catch up to the incredible surge in importance that devices now play in our lives. Perhaps the gap could have been shortened, if it wasn’t for the pandemic creating a shift in behaviour and reinvigorating the mobile phone’s part in our lives over the past year. In the context of being at home and disconnected from the world we once knew, we crave more connections, entertainment and utility from the small device in our hands.

A notable change has been the flock to gaming, points out David Porter, vice president, global media at Unilever. He shares a data point from media agency Mindshare, “APAC mothers with children under seven are spending an hour and a half each day on mobile gaming.”

Adding to this, Genelle Hung, Head of Demand, APAC at Twitter’s MoPub, shares that the types of experiences that people want on mobile have shifted over the past year.

“Traditionally premium categories for mobile was business, news and finance.  In-app engagement rates are consistently high throughout the day, as global lockdowns have forced people to turn to their phones for communication, online shopping, food deliveries, social media and just about everything else,” she explains.

The mobile phone is bridging chasms between demographic stereotypes, turning mothers into gamers and grandparents into video call professionals.

But if the audiences are there, why aren’t brands?

The APAC region tends to lead with mobile ad trends and brands in the region are starting to catch on. According to the latest Magna ad spend forecast, APAC mobile ad spend increased by 19% in 2020, despite the economic challenges that businesses faced. With economic activity set to return somewhat in 2021, Magna’s prediction for 2021 is a 23% increase in mobile ad format spending. According to the same report, mobile advertising spending represents nearly 80% of total digital spending in APAC in 2021 and will increase to 87% of total digital spending by 2025, according to the data.

On a more nuanced level, the underinvestment is occurring often in the in-app space, where the majority of consumer attention is focused. This is partly due to misconceptions around brand safety aspects, while rewarded video is yet to get the attention it deserves.

According to Hung, “At MoPub, we know very well that marketers could, and should be, spending a great deal more on in-app. What marketers may not realize is that mobile in-app is inherently brand-safe if you invest in reviewing your app list and inventory. A game app will never suddenly include content around the news that may not be brand-safe/brand-suitable, a weather app will never suddenly include UGC and so on. Mobile in-app video, particularly rewarded video, is inherently viewable (consumers completing a full-screen 30s video for an extra life is as engaged as it gets), and consumers look favourably on ads that provide them with an in-app reward in return for their engagement.”

So where does the savvy marketer go from here?

The advice from Unilever’s Porter and MoPub’s Hung is the same - treat mobile as the unique channel it is. Ultimately, it’s worth spending the time strategically understanding the part mobile plays in your consumer’s journey and adapting a strategy around it.

The most common mistake brands make is adapting creative and strategies from other channels and squeezing them into mobile formats, according to Porter.

“The easiest mistake to avoid is designing for television then adapting for mobile. Mobile’s intimacy and the way people look at and interact with their devices, makes it utterly different from TV. We have seen consistently that TV commercials do not travel well into mobile, although made-for-mobile can often succeed in the opposite direction.

“A lot of the best mobile work feels native to the platform on which we see it. Most major platforms are happy to work with brands and agencies to share what they know about how the public interacts with their app and this can be really helpful for creative development,” he explains.

Likewise, Hung says, “I would recommend brands start to plan with mobile as a separate line item, not just bundled into general digital/display, as the reach, scale and user mindset is unique. Mobile is also tough to beat when it comes down to basics - reach and scale. Mobile should absolutely be part of the plan when it comes to full-funnel marketing tactics, including both brand awareness and direct response.”

The smart marketer will already have mobile on the plan but the opportunity to stand out as a brand and really add value to consumers lives with advertising is to approach it more uniquely. There is still space for ad spend to increase to reach the enormous amount of time that people spend on mobile, so it’s time for advertisers to spend more time on mobile themselves.