Faculty & Research -Where and How to Sell? – The Smartphone App Ad Challenge

Where and How to Sell? – The Smartphone App Ad Challenge

In 2012 the number of smartphone users exceeded 1 billion for the first time. This staggering figure should have advertisers licking their commercial lips at the prospect of being able to reach so large a pool of potential customers by advertising on the various applications used on mobile telephones worldwide. However, recent studies into the field have revealed that, just as in other strands of advertising, it is a question of how and where an advertiser appears and just how well they pitch their product to raise their chances of success. It’s not just the phones that have to be smart…

Electronic advertising of all types, from e-mailing campaigns and website banners to social media pages and smartphones, are faced with the same challenge – how to ensure the highest number and/or speed of click-throughs. Smartphone advertisers are confronted with the stiffest challenge of all, as confirmed by the recent damning statistic that a mere 1% of advertisements embedded within apps are clicked upon and consulted. The main reason for this is common to all virtual supports – online users are invariably consulting their e-mail, surfing the web, logging onto social media or accessing an app for an objective other than advertising. If they are intending to purchase a particular service or product they will consult a known site directly or use a search engine to find one that meets their needs. The smaller format of a smartphone screen poses an additional challenge for effective advertising within an app. But there is more…

Selective User Attention

For some years heat maps have been produced to trace the parts of a web page to which users pay the most attention. In the case of editorial content, their focus will invariably be upon the header and footer of the article. The same importance of positioning applies to online advertising, with banners placed at the top of tall, narrow pages and ads placed on the left-hand side of wide, long pages proving the most successful. In short, users of all modes of virtual navigation have a selective attention, such is their need to quickly sift between the content they are actually in search of and that which is deemed superfluous to their needs.

The “working memory” of a smartphone app user raises additional questions – and opportunities for techno-savvy advertisers – in terms of where and how to place their content to increase their chances of being consulted. Until now research has generally overlooked this area. A recent study has drawn a link not only between the relevance of an advertisement with the content of an app but also its positioning from two angles – the top-versus-bottom part of an app (“intra-page”) and the front-versus-inside pages (“inter-page”).

Establishing Relevance and the Right Location

This article is based on a field study of a European-based but globally-used social networking mobile application with advertising content available in 10 languages. Empirical analysis was carried out based upon usage of the app and consultation of its banner-format advertising content over the period June 2007-June 2010, during which 1373 ads were displayed for 184075 click-throughs. The study was conducted along the key lines of intra-page display, inter-page display and the consistency of the theme of the ads with the background content of the app.
The second stage of the research was performed in a post-hoc investigation format using multicultural groups of internet users of varying levels of internet and mobile phone experience. They were asked to verbalise spontaneously their user experience of an app in order to establish where the focus of their attention lay, in order to understand the dynamic between the priority content they were seeking and the likelihood of clicking on advertising depending upon the page they were consulting within the app.

Counting the Cost of App Advertising

Across the two stages of the study the results confirm many expectations but challenge others. Top-of-front-page display of a thematically-relevant ad, compared with a thematically non-relevant ad, boosts higher click-through count, whilst the advantage of thematically-relevant ads diminishes when these ads are displayed at the bottom of the front page or inside pages.
In terms of speed of consultation, the positioning of an ad on the front or inside pages emerges as having a far greater potential positive impact than the relevance of the ad’s content to the app. Finally, and arguably most interestingly, the second step of the study revealed that many app users regard the front page often as a mere directory offering access to the core content they are seeking, so not a guarantee of success from the advertiser’s perspective.

The gauntlet that this study throws down to app advertisers is to expertly balance the consistency of the product and service they are selling with the content of the app, the positioning of their ad within but also the structure of the app. Top-of-front-page advertising is logically the space everyone is fighting for but not all apps resemble one another, so companies looking to sell their wares through this booming device should beware the pitfalls, know their market and expertly judge where and how to get themselves seen.

This article draws inspiration from the paper Selective Attention to Commercial Information Displays in Globally Available Mobile Application written by Yi Liu, Chuan-Hoo Tan and Juliana Sutanto and published in the Journal of Global Information Management volume 24, issue 2 (2016), pp. 18-38.

Yi Liu is an assistant professor of information Systems at Rennes School of Business, France. His research interests include Information Technology Management, Information Systems and E-Commerce.


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