kill_a_creative_idea [Image by Scott Campbell]

Aside from doing the mobile marketing campaign stuff, I also spend a lot of time designing WAP sites and mobile banners for various promotions that require landing pages/advertising across different publisher sites. I’ve been making mobile banners since 2006 when I was at Enpocket and even though mobile has come a long way to become cemented in advertising and brand strategy, some things are still exactly the same as they were 3 years ago…there is a serious lack of love for the mobile banner.

If you work in advertising/creative in any shape or form you will have no doubt come across brand guidelines before, these are the documents provided to agencies, partners and freelancers to ensure that the company is represented clearly and consistently both inside and outside the organisation. This includes rules for print, outdoor and online, such as size of logo, spacing between elements, colours, tone of voice etc. The guidelines often need to followed to the letter otherwise any designs you’ve done will get thrown out during the brands internal sign off process. This is where the trouble begins…

I’ve made hundreds mobile banners and WAP sites, in that time I’ve seen brand guidelines include specifications for mobile just once – both for regular advertisers and those dipping their toes in. Instead you’re expected to apply the same rules and assets for online to any mobile designs. This causes a number of problems because in many cases, it’s impossible to do on mobile.

Mobile screens are small and banners are even smaller (as well as being highly restricted but more on that later). Meaning that any logos, graphics and mandatory slogans/copy often become illegible as they scale down. You would assume this allows you some leeway with getting designs approved, after all if you can’t make out half the things in the advert it’s pretty pointless.

Often the only way to fit something into a banner is by re-working some of the assets, such as making a portrait logo into landscape by moving the elements side by side or removing some copy heavy slogans. Nothing radical. But exceptions are rarely made by brand teams, partly because they don’t understand the limitations of mobile or have anything other than online to reference it against. This means they would rather let barely legible creative through the approval process than something that is clearer, more effective and likely to get a click. Once brand team sign-off the creative it usually goes live without anyone from the company checking it over again as responsibility is delegated. In the end you’re left with a banner that leaves you wondering “who is actually going to click on this thing?”.

Check out this logo I picked completely at random as an example:


The static banners above show the difference it makes by adapting for mobile. Would you rather have your advert unrecognisable but adhere to the guidelines? Or work on getting the best out of your money by considering how to adapt for the medium?

Some brands have logos, slogans and assets that luckily already work well for mobile but those who don’t can count the cost in a number of ways including:

  • The ad campaign doesn’t perform well, wasting money and affecting the brands confidence in spending money on mobile advertising again in the future.
  • The poor quality creative has a direct effect on the consumers perception of the brand, which is kinda ironic after the brand team signs it off.
  • The brands Competitors DO create mobile brand guidelines, making their ads look considerably better to the consumer.

Working on the ad-serving team at Nokia, I got to see how major ad campaigns were doing and it’s no surprise that click through rates have a direct correlation to the quality of creative. If I would have had all the banner creatives on the screen and hidden the results, you could have easily guessed which ones got the best CTR just by looking at the graphics. Obviously there are other elements involved in attracting the user to make that click but in my opinion the creative is the most important. If it wasn’t then everyone would just run text ads right? In Google’s own words, “Text is often useful, but sometimes videos and pictures are a more effective way to receive information.

The banners might be small however the money spent on them is anything but, it’s common to see anywhere between £10,000 to £100,000 on buying up impressions for a single campaign across various operator portals and publisher sites. It’s big business and Google paying $750 million for Admob is a clear indication of how seriously mobile ad-serving is being taken. It’s not sexy but serving banner ads is always gonna be where the big moneyz will be made in mobile.

So isn’t it extraordinary that with all this money being spent, one of the most important parts of the eco-system is being massively overlooked? It’s a bit of a contradiction to the recent talk of how brands are leading the way with mobile.

The solution is pretty simple – if brands are investing in mobile advertising, they need to work with a good mobile agencies, using their experience and knowledge to help develop mobile sections in their guidelines. It shouldn’t just cover banners but also how copy is used too. There doesn’t seem to be much understanding that you can only fit a small number of words onto mobile graphics, they need to be punchy with a clear CTA. I don’t see why a copy writer is used for things like email newsletters but not for a mobile ad campaign costing upwards of £10,000.

Including mobile into brand guidelines will be a good investment, it can be built up over time to include all areas of mobile marketing (applications etc) continuously evolving…just like guidelines should.


The Mobile Marketing Assocation is the non-profit industry trade group that represents agencies, advertisers, device manufacturers and wireless operators. Every year they produce mobile advertising guidelines in an attempt to educate the marketplace and establish industry-wide best practices. These range from recommendations for SMS marketing to file sizes for banners. The recommendations are then (supposedly) taken on by advertising networks who target mobile users by serving the ads across hundreds of different mobile sites. (Links to guidelines for 2007, 2008, 2009)

The problem is that the MMA haven’t changed the specification for static banner ads in 3 years. In 2008 they added just 1-2KB to animated banners only, in 2009 there was no change at all. It’s basically like the industry handicapping itself. One year in mobile is equivalent to a year on the Internet, things move at such a rapid rate and the MMA need to reflect this. The dimensions of the banner sizes haven’t changed, which I totally understand because even though you have iPhones and Androids, the majority of phones on the market are still made up by the four sizes below.


My question is why are the file size constraints still the same? The market has changed so much in 3 years, not just technology but also standard operator tariffs.

Here are some of the historical reasons for not changing the file size limits:

Slower 2.5G phones – A large part of the market still have 2.5G phones, so the you would think it makes sense to work to the lowest common denominator and keep the file sizes low. No user wants pages taking longer to load because of ads. However the MMA seem to forget that 2.5G phones get quicker at rendering wap pages every year because of faster processors and software. On top of this sites are often optimised to load content first, and then load the ads. This means that worrying about increased loading times for the end user over an extra 5-6KB isn’t warranted.

Data costs for the consumer – A few years back operators were charging data by the megabyte but now it’s capped at a daily rate for PAYG and contract tariffs in the UK and much of Europe, meaning that larger banners aren’t going to cost the consumer more.

Extra load on advertising servers – Come on now, really?

I’m a big on user experience and I wouldn’t be suggesting increasing the file size of advertising if it meant the consumer lost out. It will allow animated banners to have more frames and better animation, photography will look more recognisable and so will text. The end result will be something more visually engaging and informative or the consumer, and more valuable for the advertiser as it encourages more clicks.

Here are some examples:

Standard 7.48KB MMA Sized Animated Banner:


Here is a banner at 50% MORE than the MMA standard:

14.5KB Animated Banner


So what does the above banner look like under the MMA limit…..

7.27KB MMA sized Animated Banner:


Pretty grim hey?

We are now at a stage where the MMA should increase banner limits by at least 30-50% per size. Of course ad networks don’t have to pay any attention to the MMA guidelines and many don’t, but this needs to start from the top and filter down. There are some promising signs from networks in Europe where file size limits are a max of 15KB for every size, hopefully this will become more common.

Well that’s my view from the ground, I would love to hear some other opinions from within the industry.