Study Says Advertising Interaction on Personal Devices Better Than You Might Think

By Peter Bernstein July 18, 2012

With all of the hubbub about whether personal devices, smartphones and tablets, are good platforms for advertising —including the perception that they are not, which helped drop the Facebook IPO valuation in the days after it was issued, since more people are accessing the popular social media site from their mobiles — it is nice to actually have some data on the subject. That is precisely what the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and it Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence has provided with the recently released report “Mobile’s Role in the Consumer’s Media Day.” It is an eye-opener.

Not so bad

Done for IAB by research firm ABI Research, findings are based on a survey that had a sample balanced at 50 percent males and 50 percent females in the U.S. It was aimed delineated by age groups and included responses from 552 U.S. consumers, who use a smartphone at least once a week and use data service, and 563 U.S. tablet users, who also are on their devices at least once a week and utilize data service as well. 

Highlights of the report are illuminating:

  • Tablet users interact with ads very favorably with 47 percent saying they engage with ads more than once a week
  • This compares with 25 percent of smartphone users who interact at the same frequency
  • More compelling was the finding that once engaged with an ad users were extremely likely to take action — 80 percent of smartphone users and a whopping 89 percent of tablet users

Anna Bager, VP and GM, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, IAB in commenting on the study stated, “Both tablet and smartphone users show an impressive interest in mobile advertising…The key for marketers is looking at how consumers use these devices in different ways, and tailoring brand messages and strategies accordingly.”

The study also included some additional insights into how people relate to their devices. For example:

  • 70 percent of smartphone users consider the device to be mission-critical for their day-to-day lives, with 70 percent saying that they “never leave home without it.”
  • In comparison, 70 percent said their tablets served as entertainment and media hubs.

It gets even more interesting. People with both devices demonstrated the differentiated value derived from using each platform. 

  • 60 percent prefer using a smartphone to “look up info on-the-go”
  • 22 percent said they who would choose a tablet for that activity.

Not very surprising was that respondents with both said that they preferred to consume traditional media like print and video on tablets (69 percent print, 68 percent video) over a smartphone (9 percent print, 8 percent video). This should send a strong message not just to advertisers, but to content providers up and down the value chain. 

The study also found that time of day matters. For smartphone users, the three most impactful media moments of the day are:

  • Early Morning – When they first wake up, nearly 20 percent access social media
  • Midday – 28 percent said “free time” windows allow them to get caught up
  • Primetime Evening – Both general media and social media consumption spike during primetime TV viewing hours

In other words, despite all of the current analysis that says we are not good at multi-tasking, reality (and this may not be good news for advertisers on TV) is that not only do we multi-task, but the presumption is that concentration and engagement is likely in the palm of our hands.

It was noted that tablet user behavior was a bit harder to generalize about, although 28 percent said they were using their tablets to engage social media first thing in the morning. This leads to the question of how many were looking at their smartphones instead. 

Last but not least was the question of where one engages with ads. The study found that nearly one-third of mobile device owners (30 percent smartphone users, 32 percent tablet users) said they were likely to respond to ads that related to their current location. The report was careful to note that “current locations” included being at home. This was amplified by the findings that 48 percent of smartphone users and 59 percent of tablet users say they regularly conduct local searches on their mobile devices while at home in front of the television set. 

Rethinking advertising platforms

The IAB study makes for interesting food for thought, especially when you get into the weeds on the generational differences. The good news here is that despite what many observers have thought, personal devices can engage users with advertising in remarkably high numbers, especially tablets whose bigger screens provide a more digestible user experience. Tablets, because they are used as entertainment hubs, also naturally have people in a context modality that is similar to the TV experience, i.e., a context where ads are expected.

The more provocative question raised by the study is what marketers need to do in calibrating their ad spends as the personal device population continues its explosion. If tablets have high engagement and are used extensively while people are “watching television” it is hard to imagine that there will not be pushback when broadcasters and cable operators ask for an increase on their ad rates. After all there is not just the engagement issue, but a distraction one as well that must be considered. 

Famed futurist, Marshall McLuhan said decades ago that, “The medium is the message.” He got it right. The result is that deciphering the preferred medium for a major marketing spend (and I include the device as a medium here) that is best for engaging highly desired audiences — those with enough discretionary income to have multiple devices and wireless and wired broadband connections — is key. With television increasingly becoming the background noise for what we do with our “leisure time”, and DVRs and streamed video making it easy to skip ads, there is marketing industry disruption in the air. Should be fascinating to see what all of this means not just marketers but also for Google, Facebook, Twitter et al.       

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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