The Age of Mobile Creativity: Are We There Yet?

With the first Cannes Grand Prix in the mobile category bestowed this week, we look at the state of mobile creativity.

The Age of Mobile Creativity: Are We There Yet?
Evgenia Bolyukh/Shutterstock

With the International Festival of Creativity (aka Cannes) awarding the first Lion for mobile this week, can we finally declare 2012 the long-anticipated Year of Mobile?


Not so fast. Despite steady annual climbs in ad spending for mobile, the fact remains that the medium still commands barely a fraction of what advertisers are spending elsewhere. Compare mobile’s $1.6 billion in ad revenue from 2011 to search ($14.8 billion) or display ($11.1 billion).

The majority of those dollars still go to search ads or banners, leaving little left for truly creative executions. Ask someone about her favorite Internet video, and you won’t wait long for an answer. Ask her about her favorite mobile ad, and you may think you’ve dropped the call.

We asked some creatives who work in mobile to name their favorite executions of the past year or so. The consensus? Don’t look for amazing visuals or stories. When it comes to mobile, the most creative ads are the ones that use the technology to forge connections.

“The connectivity stuff is where I think it’s getting really interesting,” says Tom Eslinger, digital creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and head of the mobile jury at Cannes.

“Mobile that connects you to your community when you’re watching your favorite TV show so you can hang out and watch together, ” he says, seemingly describing any number of social TV apps. “There’s this really high-utility stuff–TV and entertainment has a lot of it.”

Mark Silber, executive creative director of WPP’s Joule, named Toyota’s “Backseat Driver,” a mobile game that uses GPS to let a child in an actual car drive a virtual Toyota along the same roads his real car is traveling (the project won a Gold Lion at Cannes). “It’s a branding tour de force that’s immersive and replayable and creates an immense amount of goodwill around the Toyota name,” says Silber. It’s “using the mobile platform to deliver an experience that’s impossible to do in any other way.”


But aside from these sorts of apps, what about other forms of mobile advertising? Tina Unterlaender, mobile director at AKQA, was unable to recall a single mobile ad that blew her mind this year. But she’s okay with that, she says, because the era of mobile devices that can do more than display text is still relatively new.

“Yes, we’ve had mobile phones for 15 years,” she says, “but it’s only in the past five that we’ve had iPhones and Androids, phones where you go, ‘Oh my God, look what this phone can do.'”

“I think today we are finally challenging and competing with the creativity you have on, say, a desktop,” she continues. “Are brands utilizing this to the extent that they could? No, they are not, which is why I’m hesitant to say, ‘Oh my God there was this one campaign that stood out.’ There’s still a lot of dabbling going on.”

The biggest obstacle to consistently great–or at least interesting–mobile creativity? Not hesitancy on behalf of brands, but the fact that creating good mobile experiences is a cross-disciplinary endeavor that not all agencies can pull off, says Peter Sells, head of mobile for BBH London and also a member of the Cannes mobile jury.

“How many agencies could really build these brand extensions?” he asks. “How many have–or could manage–service designers or product managers? Changing brand perception and building brand experience are two different skill sets–that’s why most big agencies still find specialists to build these propositions.”

“Mobile is simply the most diverse, most surprising, most exciting of all the Cannes categories,” he continues. “It’s also the youngest category.  This heady mix means that–in time–it will redefine what we mean by creativity.”