Tapping into the potential of lock screens for mobile advertising

The average iPhone user unlocks their smartphone 80 times per day; the equivalent to seven times an hour or once every 10 minutes.

And before even unlocking their phone, a consumer will usually check the lock screen for practical information: How many new notifications they have, whether they have any missed calls, or even just to tell the time.

But what if the lock screen could offer something more; like personalised, opt-in mobile advertising?

The existing mobile ad experience  

It’s undeniable that the present mobile advertising experience isn’t living up to consumer expectations. According to Forrester, over 70% of ads seen in a typical day fail to create a positive impression. While the reasons for this vary from irrelevance and bad placement that compete with content to slow loading times, they all add up to a poor user experience.

With user frustration high, it’s not surprising that usage of mobile ad blocking software grew to 308 million active devices last year and with Google’s built-in mobile ad blocker on the way, this looks set to continue if things don’t change.

The industry has already tried to take action by improving ad targeting, experimenting with different formats, integrating ads with other experiences such as native and search, and even serving users direct messages asking them to switch off their blockers to continue using a site. But the problem is that none of these approaches have adapted to the specific needs of mobile.

If ads are to successfully engage mobile users, they must form an unobtrusive element of activity that enhances the individual experience. And by far the easiest way to do so is by becoming part of a gateway that users already interact with regularly, such as the lock screen.  

What are the unique needs of mobile?

One of the most important considerations of mobile is screen size. Generally speaking, desktop computers are much bigger than mobile devices; even the smallest laptops are around 10 inches in width and double the size of most smartphone screens. As a result, the go-to ad formats that were perfect for desktop are less successful on mobile.

Not only do large ads take over mobile screens but they also tend to only partially display or get lost at the bottom of the screen. This isn’t good news for mobile users or advertisers.

From the user perspective, it means a constant stream of ads that interrupt their experience. By failing to make the right impression, ads become a source of irritation — especially when the resources needed to render large ads slow down page load times and eat into mobile data plans. And for advertisers it brings low viewability and engagement rates, with semi-loaded ads falling below viewability standards.

Consequently, there is an urgent need for a different creative approach that takes screen size, data usage, load time, and users’ mobile experiences into account.

Could the lock screen meet these demands?

Unlike the majority of formats that have come before them, lock screen ads are built specifically for mobile and this means they have a lot of benefits to offer users and advertisers.

Firstly, lock screen ads sit outside the browser and app environments — thereby minimising disruption and bypassing the ad blockers — and secondly, they require the mobile user to give permission to receive ads in exchange for useful rewards such as extra mobile data, minutes, or content.

For the mobile carriers and advertisers, this opens up transparent communications with users, which goes a long way towards providing a richer mobile experience and improving ad receptivity. For example, if a mobile user is a sports enthusiast, they could be served highly targeted sports news and content via their mobile lock screen to tie-in with an important match.

This level of personalisation is truly unique in the mobile space, outside of the large Internet giants of Google and Facebook, where users may otherwise feel that they are engaged in an unbalanced value exchange only benefitting online advertisers and publishers. Right from the start, users have a clear choice about whether to view content and a definite understanding of the value they will receive in exchange. It could even offer a long-term solution to the growing use of ad blocking software among mobile users.

Indeed, an independent survey by Roy Morgan Australia found that up to37% of people are willing to view ads on their lock screen in exchange for receiving some additional mobile data.

So in a world where marketers are facing growing challenges with mobile, could the solution be at their fingertips – literally?

As viewability and ad blocking frustrations continue to bubble under the surface, it is only a matter of time before the industry looks to alternative mobile advertising mediums, and the lock screen could certainly be one of them.

Read more: JC Oliver: On 'disruptive permission' and changing the face of advertising

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