How To Make Mobile Creative Work In Six Seconds Or Less

July 19, 2021

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Billie Hirsh

As Featured On The Drum

While mobile use and mobile ad spend are witnessing exponential growth, mobile-first creative is often an afterthought for today’s brands and ad agencies, writes Kargo’s vice president of marketing Billie Hirsh. Here’s how to optimize mobile-first ad creative to garner audience attention and drive higher rates of engagement.


People are spending more time than ever scrolling through their phones. Eyes have shifted from the big screen to the smallest screen in a big way, but creative agency priorities haven’t quite caught up.

Even though mobile accounts for nearly 70% of total digital ad spend, I’d estimate that mobile-specific creative builds make up only 10% of a designer’s time or effort. With cookies on their way out and the new iOS updates making tracking history, mobile creative will have to work much harder to actually capture attention and elicit engagement. It may require a bit more effort, but specialized, made-for-mobile creative improves outcomes for advertisers, publishers and users alike.

There are brands out there that do prioritize mobile creative, and their efforts have paid off. Here are a few of their best-kept secrets.


Short, shorter, shortest

Believe it or not, humans officially have a shorter attention span than goldfish — eight seconds compared to a fish’s nine. Now, take that very short attention span and point it to mobile devices, where the world is literally at the consumer’s fingertips. Brands have mere moments to make an unforgettable impact on their consumers.

There are certain approaches that work better than others. For example, intrusive formats like interstitials might grab attention right away, but they often annoy consumers. How fast do you try to find the ‘X’ button when an ad takes over your screen? Instead, high-impact, in-article formats have a better track record of garnering attention by sliding into view unobtrusively and prompting users to look back at them as they scroll through the content.

When utilizing video, the ideal experience should offer a way to view the ad without blocking or gating content. Videos should adhere to the six-second recommended length, sit in-article, have memorable and prominent branding with a clear call to action and a clean, clutter-free design. A recent Homegoods creative demonstrates this perfectly. The branded canvas surrounds the video, placing the logo front and center throughout the duration of the video. Even without audio, the user understands what’s happening, and the clear CTA makes it easy for consumers to take action.


Prioritize the user value exchange

Even with all these design elements in place, remember that mobile users are hardly a captive audience. They can scroll, swipe and tap away from your ad in the blink of an eye. However, giving consumers control of the ad experience is likely to end with more time spent with your brand. These user-controlled experiences can range from scroll-reactive creatives that change based on scroll-velocity, to allowing users to decide if and when they want to turn on audio within a video experience.

Emarketer notes that some of the most successful mobile ad types are “value-exchange” or “rewarded” ads. Often featured within mobile games, these ads allow a user to decide if they want to watch a video or answer a survey in exchange for earning points or unlocking new elements in a game. These are designed to be totally within the user’s control, and their performance numbers prove that users actually prefer the obvious quid pro quo. Other ads can borrow that same concept — nod to the fact that you’re on the user’s phone asking for their attention.

The app game Pickcrafter offered players a choice between receiving one reward or watching a seasonal Easter ad to earn three rewards. Simply offering this choice increased user engagement and grew ad revenue over the Easter season by 165%, proving that rewarded ads are a win-win.

Another great example of this is a recent CVS ad I stumbled across promoting its new QR code payment option with a cashback incentive. Upon clicking on the full-screen ad, the viewer is taken to a simple, mobile-friendly landing page with three easy steps to downloading the QR code payment option through Venmo or Paypal and redeeming the $10 cashback offer. Utilizing functionality intrinsic to the mobile device, the entire experience is mobile-optimized, clearly and concisely enforces the value proposition of the offer (quick checkout with mobile payments) and provides a “reward” to the consumer.


Mobile-first is a must

Outside of Netflix binge sessions, we all tend to hold our phones vertically. In this way it differs from how we use other screens. This interface feature, combined with the fact that mobile is now the highest-volume ad channel, ad creative should be specifically designed for vertical orientation. Mobile device screens are also touch screens, unlike most TVs and laptops, yet few ads take advantage of interactive elements like press-and-hold or swipe.

Unlike TV commercials, mobile creative can get users to become an active participant in the ad experience. A mobile ad can link directly to an app or a social platform for sharing. Simply repurposing a TV commercial for a different platform is doing your brand a disservice.

Mobile is a unique media channel with an enormous audience, with the average user clocking in 5.4 hours per day of mobile screen time. That’s more time and attention than any other platform commands right now. So really, every campaign should start with mobile ideation — no more resized print ads and re-edited TV spots. Mobile creative should be designed for the device they live on and take advantage of all of the phone’s features. The result? Creative that looks great and performs even better.


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