New York-based Columbia Business School has discovered which mobile display ads are the most effective as part of its new study into the channel.

As part of the paper, Columbia pushed American consumers with mobile ads containing over 50 products, from packaged goods to financial services. They were then asked questions around their attitude and intention towards buying the product.

The Ivy League school found that mobile ads do work for products that have a practical use, such as a lawnmower or washing machine. However, when consumers are buying a fancy watch or a similar just-for-pleasure item, they are less convincing.

In another key finding, mobile display fell over when promoting low-involvement purchases, including movie tickets and toothbrushes. It is thought this is because they pose a relatively low risk to the buyer.

Decision-making process

Mobile ads were also found to work for products where a decision demands a lot of time, thought and energy – like a family car. Columbia’s research described these as high-involvement products.

Making a substantial vehicle purchase can take weeks or months, but Miklos Sarvary, co-director of the media program at Columbia Business School and co-author of the new study, thinks the mobile display ad still has a significant part to play in encouraging people to buy.

“During that time, you’re debating with yourself about which model of car you should buy. If a display ad for that car shows up on your smartphone, even if it’s tiny and doesn’t provide you with new information, it’ll reinforce what you already know about the product.”

“The mobile ad’s strength,” Sarvary continued, “is not [in] adding new data, but reminding you of what you already know and making you think about the product again.”