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Are mobile social ads overhyped?

The number of mobile social advertising opportunities has mushroomed this year and while initial results are promising, it is still unclear how consumers feel about the ads, if they can drive engagement at scale or even if they will be around in a year.

Instagram, one of the newer social media players to enter mobile advertising, last week revealed that early advertiser Ben & Jerry?s saw a recall lift of 33 percentage points and reached 9.8 million consumers with paid promotions on the platform. While these numbers look promising, it is not known if the exact nature of the recall associated with Ben & Jerry?s ads on Instagram was positive or not.

?Yes, mobile social advertising is still in its infancy, and most platforms' ad units are still rather basic, but as agencies and brands work more with platforms on new and innovative ways to leverage their platforms as part of meaningful communication and interaction programs with their users, the potential for mobile social advertising is huge,? said Amir Haque, partner and chief strategist at Tiny Rebellion, Santa Monica, CA. ?And there is always hype when there is high potential.

?Engagement at scale is the potential promise here, but we are a long way from proving it out,? he said.

Consumer perception
Another Instagram advertiser, Levi?s, saw a 24 point lift in recall with Instagram paid promotions and reached 7.4 million consumers.

Given how new ads are to Instagram, it makes sense that these initial efforts would stand out and get noticed. However, as the number of social media sites with ads grows as well as the number of brands trying to reach users, consumers may start to tune out these ads.

One of the concerns for brands reaching mobile users on social media is that users view social media an enjoyable break during the day, meaning ads can seem intrusive. It is not clear yet if users find ads helpful, a necessary evil or if they are turned off by them.

"They?re certainly eye-catching increases in ad recall,? said Mark Pinsent, social and content lead at Metia, Seattle. ?Hopefully, everyone was recalling the ads in a positive way rather than, perhaps, recalling them as being an unwanted interruption to their Instagram feeds!

?It?s early days for Instagram ads, so any ads are likely to get cut through and be recalled simply for being ads, and therefore a little novel,? he said.

?It might be more difficult in six months? time for users to recall ads if they?re finding their feeds full of them."

A crowded market
Instagram is just one of several social media platforms scaling up in mobile advertising.

The big two social media sites, Twitter and Facebook ? which owns Instagram ? are aggressively building a variety of mobile ad offerings. Additionally, LinkedIn and Pinterest introduced mobile ads this year.

Vine does not currently have ads but has been adopted by numerous brands as a way to engage with users via short-form creative content.

Advertising on mobile devices is becoming a requirement for these social sites because their user bases are increasingly mobile.

However, with so many entries already and more likely to come, it is not clear if advertising will work for all social sites.

?We?ll see a lot of trials of mobile social advertising and a lot of fails too,? Mr. Pinsent said. ?There?ll be consumer backlash against platforms and advertisers, u-turns and revamps.

?Eventually, most if not all social platforms will find an appropriate mobile ad model that will be acceptable to their users,? he said. ?They?ll need to in order to survive."

The golden goose
Brands need to focus on figuring out mobile social advertising because this is where consumers are increasingly spending a significant amount of their screen time on a daily basis.

As consumers spend less and less time with traditional mediums such as television and print ? which is where brands have typically gone to reach a wide audience ? mobile social is one of the most promising areas for replicating that kind of reach, even if it is still early days.

?Brands are all experiencing the significant challenge of engaging with audiences in a high-reach way,? Tiny Rebellion?s Mr. Haque said. ?The scale of social channels coupled with the relevance and engagement of mobile interaction holds hope and promise of allowing engagement at scale.

?While there is a lot of excitement to experiment and test in this area, brands are still rightfully cautious as to the staying power of the channel and the programs,? he said.

?There is the potential of a golden goose here, and we need to be careful with it.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York