The fallacy of the mobile advertising surge: It’s tablets – not mobile – which is driving the growth

December 17, 2013
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Mobile advertising will surpass desktop advertising by 2017. This is the key takeaway from eMarketer’s latest digital ad projections. They show advertising revenues stagnating, eventually declining, on desktop and surging on mobile in the next few years.

Are we, finally, seeing the “year of mobile” in the advertising industry? Well, sort of. Only if you accept that tablets are mobile. The incredibly fast rise of tablets, the incredibly long sessions consumers spend on them, the much higher click-through rate that ads experience on them: These are the true reasons why mobile advertising is, apparently, booming.

Combining tablets with mobile, from an advertising perspective, could be excused in 2010, maybe even in 2011. In 2014, it won’t make any sense. Creatives are not the same. In many cases, even campaigns are not the same.

One could argue that tablets, should they be bundled with one of the two groups, should be bundled with the “desktop” category – which, presumably, now mostly include laptops – rather than the “mobile” one. People migrate from computers to tablets, at least at home, but they rarely stop using their phone on the go because they now have a tablet.

While the screen sizes of tablet vary greatly, and even if small, 7-inch tablets have the the fastest growing category recently, the way people use tablets – scanning their social feeds, reading news, watching videos, searching, hopping – is much more comparable to the way they used computers than to their mobile behavior.

This is a key reason, actually, why advertising on tablets is so effective. People do spend a lot of time on these devices. They do immerse themselves in an experience They do shop, and buy. Like they did, and are still doing, on computers.

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Tablet ads engage. Smartphone ads? Not so much

While the smaller size of the screen allows advertisers to offer much better full-screen experiences on tablets than on computers (or, at least, to avoid the multi-ad clutter that web sites suffer on computer screens), people accept and welcome advertising on tablets in a way which doesn’t compare with how annoying ads are perceived on smartphones.

So why is tablet advertising still rolled-in with mobile? eMarketer is not the main culprit here; the IAB is. The Interactive Advertising Bureau still published, as recently as last October, figures for the digital advertising market which included tablet advertising within a “mobile advertising” category.

The IAB – and PwC which acts as the research contractor for the digital revenue survey – should get their act together and reflect a major shift the marketplace by measuring and showing tablet advertising as a distinct category.

At the very least, in the short term, they should rename their so-called “mobile” category into “mobile/tablets”, or maybe even “tablets/mobile”, to acknowledge the platform which is fast becoming the king of digital advertising as a whole.

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