We’ve all had in-app and mobile web ads that pop up to us that are irritating, irrelevant, or slow to render – or all three. What’s more, closing them invariably leads to accidentally clicking on the ad and getting taken out of your app to another location. One certified consensus is that frustration at mobile ads is fairly universal.

The premise of a conference hosted by Mullen Lowe and led by Simon Andrews of Addictive! on Friday 13th (unlucky for some) was intended to get people together to discuss just that – “Making Mobile Ads Better”.

Focus initially centred around the difficulty of mobile advertising. The challenge for mobile is that a lot is expected of it, despite being a newer channel compared to standard digital display. While expectations are high with display, replicating formats and scale across mobile is at the least far more testing, or at worst, not currently possible. Programmatic technology also makes mobile more complicated from a relevance and creative perspective.

Publishers at the conference commented there is a disparity between mobile budgets and the traffic websites receive. Some media owners noted clients spent 20-30% of their digital budget on mobile ads, despite 70% of site traffic coming from mobile devices. Others noted that the majority of mobile spend focuses on building high impact end-creative, however far less time and attention is given to the banners to bring users there in the first place. Additionally, sentiment highlighted that perhaps traditional display formats had a limited future on mobile. Small screens do not necessarily lend themselves to ads being crammed into a reduced screen size.

All in all, not overly encouraging.

So what examples of mobile creative had been successful?

While some attendees highlighted big rich-media ads that are visually engaging, others considered the implications of such data-heavy formats and preferred returning to simplicity. Is it fair to automatically impose these on consumers who have tight data allowances?

Many advertisers see video ads as a preferred option on mobile, although there is currently not an overwhelming amount of evidence to support video either way. The challenge to advertisers is to have video optimised for mobile. Standard 30” pre-roll formats are not as effective on mobile where attention spans are much shorter than desktop at 8-10 seconds.

Mobile is undoubtedly a huge part of the user journey to purchase, and very often the first touch point. Advertisers must consider the full user journey, making it as smooth as possible in order to maximise the opportunity to convert. High performing ads aren’t effective if the end site isn’t optimised for mobile purchases, and if a user is forced to switch device to complete a purchase, to some extent, the moment is lost.

Mobile is such a personal format that advertisers and agencies can look to new methods of ads to reach consumers. Examples were highlighted of advertisers solving problems – free texts when users run out of credit which are sponsored by the advertiser – and catching users at crucial times in-app. Fitness apps delivering smoothie ads when a user has finished a workout was another example that was touted.

And so the mood at the end of the conference was more positive. Although mobile has recognised challenges in scalability, creative length and format, there was harmony in agreeing to focus on innovative advertising methods across mobile. Smartphones and tablets are such an integral part of consumer lives, the channel offers a wealth of opportunity.

The conference began with the quote “all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing”. While poorly conceived and executed mobile advertising probably stops just short of evil, the consensus at the end of the conference focused on the need for advertisers, agencies and publishers to develop and improve the mobile ad status quo. Innovation is the only way to move away from the problems that mobile faces and it was agreed – “we don’t want to be sat here in 12 months time, having exactly the same discussion”.