The mobile using public became turned off by QR codes for mobile devices that were nothing but a coupon that they were going to find in the newspaper or on the website.

Similarly, gimmicky contest ads and flashy free-prize messages that can at least be somewhat ignored on a desktop monitor are hard to miss on a mobile, and that may be even more of a turnoff for mobile users.

The scholars recruited 220 participants to test four different mobile sites. The participants were first asked to navigate to a mobile site. One site included a caution symbol and a security warning that the site was insecure and another site contained a gift box icon with a message that the user could win a free prize for registering. A third site showed both a warning and an instant gratification message and a fourth site, which featured neither alerts, served as the control in the study. Except for these cues, all other content in the four sites was identical. 

Participants could choose how much or how little personal, professional, financial or social media information they provided in the registration form, which served as a measure of their information disclosure behaviors. After registering, they filled out an online questionnaire about their impressions of the mobile website.

S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications at Penn State, says that a free prize drawing for registering on a mobile website led users to distrust the site. Mobile users are more technologically savvy anyway - no one on mobile clicks on Zwinky ads whereas Compete and Quantcast seem to have that audience almost exclusively on their audience panels, but the real message is that, in a mobile world, people tend to lean on cues, such as icons and messages, for decision-making shortcuts, called heuristics.

Thus, marketers will want to avoid cues that elicit user reaction in the opposite direction of what they anticipate.

"Even though we turn to our mobile devices for instantly gratifying our need for information, we may not be persuaded by advertising appeals for instant gratification," said Sundar. "It's a boomerang effect--marketers may think that they are activating the instant gratification heuristic when they display time-sensitive offers, but what they're actually doing is cuing red flags about the site.

"It could be that an instant gratification message makes mobile users, who tend to be more tech savvy, leery about the site."

The findings were presented today at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, and also tested a warning cue that seemed to prompt more conflicting reactions from users. When a security alert -- a caution icon with a warning message -- appeared, users became more worried about security, as expected. However, users were willing to reveal more information about their social media accounts after viewing the security prompt.

One possible explanation for this behavior is that the security cue makes the users distinguish more carefully between public and private information.

"People may feel that the social media information is already public information, not necessarily private information, and they are not as concerned about revealing social media information," said Sundar. "The 'privacy paradox' of giving away information when we are most concerned about its safety may not be all that paradoxical if you consider that the information we give away is not quite private." 

Source: Penn State