What you can learn from Samsung’s mobile advertising mistakes

We are in a funny spot right now when it comes to mobile advertising. We don’t fully get it, but the good companies are charging ahead, hypothesizing, testing, analyzing and doing it again and again until something sticks. The bad companies are doing what they did on the web, taking the money and hoping nobody notices.

It’s time to put an end to the latter.

Let’s face it, ads suck but they are the way many companies still make money – and will for some time. The problem is that the ads that are displayed on a mobile device need to be developed and targeted for a mobile device, not just dummied down or shrunk to fit the screen. This is part of a significant transition that needs to happen and most of us are guilty of it.

Content vs context

Gary Vaynerchuk says it best in this video rant about an experience he had with a Samsung ad on the mobile version of ESPN.

The idea that we should be focusing on the context rather than content is prescient. This example is a good one that shows neither ESPN nor Samsung really understand the full potential of this medium. The idea that ESPN would allow this is infraction number one. It is probably a better experience (as good an experience as can be had with a popup ad) on the web but they didn’t treat mobile any differently so you have a popup ad covering the entire screen, ruining the experience for the user and diminishing BOTH brands value in the eyes of the viewer.

Samsung is as guilty as ESPN in this instance. Brand ownership is so important today and making sure their brand is represented in a way that it should be falls squarely on their shoulders. As Gary says, the fallout of something like this – the lack of caring and attention to detail – may impact a buying decision.

So what do you do?

First off, do not hand your brand to someone to manage for you – they don’t get it like you do. Mobile ads are not about impressions, they are about interactions – actions that your target customer takes with your brand. Do not set and forget. Do not assume that one ad across multiple screens is a good idea. Understand the context with which each medium is used: Desktops are more for browsing and research, tablets are for interaction and commerce and smartphones are better for bite-sized, location and time aware moments. Do not confuse them as Samsung and ESPN did.

Secondly, do not put mystery in the mobile ad. If you are advertising in a specific spot (YES, you should PICK your spots to advertise on mobile – physical, virtual and time-based), you need to understand what is most likely to drive revenue. Vague, abstract ads will be dismissed. Be specific, to the point and speak the language of your customer. Certainly avoid out of context statements like “The Next Big Thing is Here” – you can’t assume people have seen it on TV anymore.

Third. Pick your spots and adjust your message accordingly. Forget the one-ad, mass advertising mentality that seems to be encroaching on the mobile world. Understand localization, targeting and timing to succeed in this world. The goal is not to spend to reach 1 million people and convert 0.25% into clicking, the goal is to spend to reach the 10 that want what you are selling and convert them. That’s the power of mobile.

Samsung’s popup ad clicks through to their Super Bowl commercial with Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd so I guess you can understand why they would advertise on ESPN. There is a loose co-relation I guess. But they could have done it quite differently than what you see here:


The simplest of idea could have been to offer an exclusive view of the commercial prior to its release: A clip, an outtake, something that is unique to the mobile experience – perhaps only available during the Super Bowl itself. After the clip, an action. Mobile can go beyond awareness and into transactions so don’t let an engagement opportunity fall away without an ask. This is NOT television. Mobile users are NOT passive.

We have a lot to learn about the power we hold in these devices. One thing is certain, the companies that understand this medium – or at least try to today – will alienate fewer customers and shift the brand wars in their favour faster than anyone expects.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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