Ten Reasons Why Mobile Advertising Has Not Reached Its Potential

Reason #4    Tell Me a Story

My daughter came home from college this weekend and proudly informed me that she gets, on average, five to ten text messages per day about parties occurring on any given evening in and around campus. I asked how many phone calls per day she gets about parties.  The answer – none.

Why?  In her world, invitations to parties are merely information.  Information is best conveyed via text.  “Why would I want to talk to someone about a party coming up.  What else is there to say?”  In essence, after receiving a one-way information transfer, she has received all the content she needs and there is no additional reason to engage.

She went on further to say that the only time she picks up the phone to talk, is if there is a story involved.   While she can either phone or text back and forth to engage in a story, she feels that with a story, she has something to which the other party can respond.  Stories contain the type of content where the reaction of the listener adds to the story experience, and makes it richer and more emotionally engaging for both the storyteller and the listener.  

Mobile is good at communicating both one-way information transfer as well as content for emotional engagement, provided that it is used in the right way.  SMS marketers will tell you that using the words “free”, “discount”, and “% or $ off” are very effective at transferring compelling, transactional-based information that will motivate a sale. In the right context, that type of information by itself can motivate an action.

But what about when factual and transactional-based information alone cannot prompt the desired action?  How about when a more involved level of emotional engagement is necessary to motivate a particular action, or for the successful continuation of an entertainment or brand-based relationship?

When the start or continuation of a personal, emotional engagement with a customer is required – especially on the mobile phone – consider the use of ‘story’ as a means to achieve that engagement.

The mobile phone is a highly personal device where most people use it to interactively communicate with each other.  And the predominant form of that communication is narrative.  “We seem to have no other way of describing “lived time” save in the form of narrative.  Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative” (Jerome Bruner Ph.D., Social Research magazine, September 2004).

So why not use narrative or story to emotionally engage your mobile audience since that is how they engage each other already. There is no behavioral change.  No adjustment to how the information is received, processed, or interpreted. No difference in the a priori expectation that they will interact with that information. And most importantly, narrative and story are very natural to every consumer’s existing organic mobile phone experience.

Story does not have to be confined to an aural experience either.  The mobile phone is a two-way communication device with a wide range of options for interactive messages from text to sounds to visual and moving images. Any one of them, or combination of them, can be used to communicate the message via story.

Robert Dickman, in a 2003 article published by the Society of Organizational Learning and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, defined a story as “a fact wrapped in an emotion that can compel us to take action.” 

 What a great recipe for brand engagement.  Tell us a story.  Give us the facts and the emotions that compel us to take action, in the same way we take action every day – on a medium on which we are very comfortable interacting with narrative.  With our friends.  With our family.  And now, with your story and your message.

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Filed under advertising, marketing, mobile, mobile advertising, wireless

7 responses to “Ten Reasons Why Mobile Advertising Has Not Reached Its Potential

  1. With the delays and message loss we see measuring SMS performance, the emotions that come across wouldn’t all be pleasant ones– even if that was the intent. Can you tell a story w/ SMS if they don’t arrive in order or if “chapters” are missing?

    • markjaffe

      Thanks for your comment, Tim. I think you point out a valid limitation of mobile today.

      With the short attention spans of many mobile users, perhaps shorter self contained narrative experiences may work better in the mobile environment, for behavioral reasons as well as the technical reasons you raise.

      For example, narrative messages can be delivered in short snippets on web landing pages or in mobile apps. Even in SMS messages, short, self-contained narratives can be communicated effectively.

      I am reminded of a five second commercial I saw once in prime time for the local late night news that contained three of the four necessary components of a great story – passion, hero, antagonist, and transformation. “Girl trapped in well, film at 11″. (You had to tune in at 11pm to see the transformation, which is how the hero and world around them are changed once they resolve the problem – getting her out of the well)

  2. Mark,

    I think you are spot on about telling a “story”, no matter the delivery medium. I find that I am more compelled to interact with marketing messages IF they engage me in some sort of storyline. Be it “click here to find out what happens next” or “here is the story, respond with how you think it ends”. Those interactions make it much more fun for me as the end user, and extends an offer of a “personal” connection with the brand that I can choose to accept or reject.

    I also think that mobile still has some growing to do not only from the way messages are delivered, but also in the way they are responded to, and how those responses are tracked. But we are getting there. It will just take some more time.

    What interests me most right now, is how to tie all of the message delivery systems together into one marketing campaign using narrative. Such as delivering part of the “story” via mobile, twitter, facebook, blog, web video, traditional video, print and so on, then tying everything together in one final landing location such as a micro-site or call to action offer page. Using every avenue that is at our disposal is where I think things can get really interesting.

    Kelly Ross Kerr

  3. bill t.


    Interesting timing on seeing this, as I was just testing out an SMS based “artificial intelligence” driven “conversation” that had a lot of emotional pull (mainly humour). To boot, the provider delivers this for virtually zero dollars in delivery costs (not per message, which I’m still now sure how they accomplish).

    But, it was clearly STORY driven SMS branded conversation that delivered both information and engagement. Will come back and post any public access they open up. But, look for artificial intelligence and SMS to converge. I’d say I went about 20 exchanges back/forth and forgot it was a machine I was texting. Last this happened was 2001 when it was more chatbot than simulated human agent.


  4. How to tell a story in limited space? Write a great headline. In my previous life as a journalist, headline writing was the toughest part of the job, for everyone, even at The Boston Globe. Technology evolves, but humans essentially don’t change. Brevity is crucial.

  5. Vivi

    Looking at it from a consumer perspective, “what’s in it for me?”. Why would a consumer want to receive advertising on their phone? It needs to be worth their while to receive advertising on their phone. Re-purposing advertisements that they already get via email, or they see in print, or on TV, isn’t a good enough incentive for the consumer.

    As a consumer, I am very annoyed when I am playing a game on my iPhone and at the end of the game or to even start playing a game, I get an advertisement. When I am escaping reality by playing games, the last thing I want is an advertisement.

    As someone in the mobile space, an important question which needs to be answered is “what can advertisers do that is so compelling and different that would make a consumer really want to receive that advertisement on their phone?” When we find the answer to that question, that’s when I think mobile marketing will see its true potential.

  6. Interesting read. There is currently quite a lot of information around this subject around and about on the net and some are most defintely better than others. You have caught the detail here just right which makes for a refreshing change – thanks.

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