Do you like mobile leaderboards? You know, the skinny little ad at the bottom of your screen? The one you accidentally hit while scrolling? Probably not. I'm sorry to say, it’s not a particularly well-liked ad format.
Well, actually there is one group of people that loves those 320x50s. Advertisers.
Mobile leaderboards are the dominant mobile ad format. 320x50s made up 82% of total mobile ad impressions in Q3 last year, according to one study: Global Digital Audience Report Q3 2013.
So, will the most popular mobile ad format go away anytime soon? That seems unlikely. Accepting as a given that the mobile leaderboard will continue to be the most popular, here are some ways to improve it.
Let’s start with the basics. Is the ad clear enough to communicate its message? Oddly enough—the answer to this question is often “no.”
Anecdotally, I can say the majority of the mobile leaderboards I see on my iPhone are blurry. They look bad because they are at a lower resolution than the retina display—which is to say, they are actually 320x50 pixels instead of double those dimensions. This takes the user experience from bad to worse.
Here’s an example: the first mobile leaderboard I was able to get served while writing this post (no joke). I actually like all the brands mentioned in the ad and the site that it is served on (guilty pleasure). Sadly, this ad is essentially unreadable on my phone, and not much better here on my desktop screen (click the image to magnify it and it's still difficult to make out).
Now that high-density displays are common on so many devices, all mobile banners ought to, at the very least, make standard the use of providing double-dimension graphics (640x100 in this case) to all HD devices. Another option is to use HTML5 text and SVG graphics for elements like logos so that everything important renders as cleanly as the text and buttons above the ad.
I encourage all ad servers to make serving hi-res graphics to hi-res devices simple and obvious. All advertisers should familiarize themselves with how it’s done and request both versions from their creative teams.
Beyond the issue of graphic clarity, there are a few other ideas to make this format successful by looking at some trends in display on desktop, and applying them to mobile as well.
There are two trends in particular that are important—social media in ads and content in ads.
We already know that social media pairs well with mobile, as evidenced by the massive mobile spend going into sponsored posts on Facebook.
Marketers should take what they are learning in terms of creating bite-sized content for promotion on social media and apply some of that thinking to mobile. The same kinds of slimmed down content that intrigues users from social feeds could be a good topic or content for small mobile ads—ads that get a similar amount of attention and screen real-estate.
Thinking about bite-sized content for mobile blends into the other topic I mentioned—actual content in ads. In desktop display, brands are starting to use regularly use display as a channel for scaling content marketing with a lot success. For example, Kraft Zesty Italian ran ads with recipes and cooking tips last year that beat engagement benchmarks by 4-6x.
Why stop at the desktop with content ads? Many kinds of content are great for mobile too, especially if paired down a little bit. The same cooking tips and recipes from Kraft—whether in full or as just a teaser—is exactly the kind of content that users on mobile have time for. As a side benefit, this content is also informative, entertaining, and useful—three elements that can make a favorable brand impression.
Will mobile leaderboards ever become beloved? Probably not. But there's a lot we can do to make them better. What do you think? What else can we do with the 320x50?